Six-month adjournment for UKZN medical school fraud accused
A request by three people accused of running a scam that traded cash for places at a top medical school to have corruption charges against them withdrawn was rejected in the Pinetown Magistrate's court on Thursday.
The three accused – Little Gujarat Restaurant owners Hiteshkumar Bhatt‚ 46‚ his wife‚ Varsha‚ 44‚ and ex teacher and businesswoman‚ Preshni Hiramun‚ 54 - were arrested in May last year after it emerged that the syndicate sold spaces at the medical school for about R500-million.
Instead of dropping the charges‚ the magistrate Correl Language acceded to the state's request for a six month adjournment - the second one following a similar request in August last year - in the matter involving the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine seats fraud and corruption case.
State advocate Attie Truter said the adjournment request was necessary because the complex investigations had not been completed.
He said a Warrant Officer Potgieter had informed him that he required at least six months more to produce a forensic report into the computers‚ laptops and cellphones which were seized when the Bhatt’s restaurants in Durban’s CBD and near Gateway‚ their upmarket homes in La Lucia and uMhlanga‚ and Hiramun’s residence in uMhlanga were raided by the Hawks and the National Intervention Unit in May.
According to Truter‚ the accused are facing three counts of corruption and three counts of fraud and if the matter proceeds it would be transferred to the Durban Magistrate’s Court or the Durban High Court.
Language said that remand was the final one he was granting.
Advocate Rajiv Sarjoo acting for the Bhatts' and attorney Wesley Rogers acting for Hiramun told the court that the lengthy delays had prejudiced their clients.
Sarjoo said the state had had more than enough time to get its act together and it was clear from the evidence led by Truter that the state was on a "fishing" expedition.
He said there was no justification in prolonging the case.
Sarjoo and Rogers also questioned why a staff member - whom the state claimed would be a fourth accused - was not arrested and brought to court some 10 months after their clients were arrested and detained.
“The state has the right to investigate but investigations must be conducted thoroughly and fairly. It seems that the Hawks were too hasty to raid and arrest. The state just does not have the evidence to have this matter to go on trial. The state requested the long adjournment to allay the public perception which emanated following the widespread media publicity‚” said Rogers.
The court has relaxed the bail conditions of the accused. They no longer have to report to police stations twice a month. Further the state submitted that new passports could be applied for by Varsha and Hiramun to travel to India to visit her family and Lesotho - where Hiruman has business interests - because their passports which were seized has been mislaid.
Hiteshkumar applied for a new passport and was given permission by the magistrate to travel to India in December.
The Bhatts and Hiramun said they had suffered severe personal and other damages when their businesses and homes were raided.
Hiteshkumar said he had no doubt that there was no evidence against him and his wife.