Phahlane blames 'blue light' tender court case delays on the state
Former acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane asked the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court to strike the R191m fraud and theft case against him off the roll.
Phahlane launched an application in terms of Section 342A of the Criminal Procedure Act, which empowers the court to investigate delays in the completion of proceedings that appear to be unreasonable.
The act states if a court finds the completion of proceedings delayed unreasonably, it may — where the accused had not yet pleaded to the charge — order the case be struck off the roll.
Phahlane's lawyer made the application on Monday afternoon, despite the state saying it was ready to proceed with the trial in the case against Vimpie Manthata, a businessman, and 12 others including Phahlane and recently fired deputy national police commissioner Bonang Mgwenya.
They are expected to answer charges of fraud, theft, and obstructing or defeating the course of justice.
The charges relate to the multimillion-rand tender which Manthata's company, Instrumentation for Traffic Law Enforcement, was awarded to fit emergency lights on to police vehicles.
The state alleges that during the procurement process, the police accused ignored a competitive bidding process and committed the SAPS to financial exposure of R191m in favour of Manthata' s company, in exchange of benefits received from Manthata.
When proceedings began on Monday, the state dropped charges against one of the accused, Ravichandran Pillay.
Phahlane's advocate Zweli Zakwe told the court that he was charged on March 1 2019 and released on R20,000 bail. The case was postponed until March 29. Phahlane indicated at the time he would object if the state sought further postponements.
However, there was a further postponement until December 2019, when the state was not ready for trial. The case was postponed a number of times and finally the state indicated it was ready for trial.
Zakwe said the state misled the court by saying it was ready because on October 12, there were search and seizure operations by police in six locations, including Phahlane's home, where items including computers were seized.
“The search and seizure took place four months after the state had indicated it was ready for trial. It is clear the state was still doing wide-ranging investigations in this matter,” Zakwe said.
Zakwe said on November 6, Phahlane's attorneys addressed a letter to the court highlighting problems that showed the case was not trial ready. One such issue was problems opening some documents stored on an external hard drive provided by the state.
Zakwe said of the 1.1 million pages of documents on the hard drive, the defence did not know which information was relevant to the case.
Zakwe said though the defence enlisted the help of IT technicians to help open the documents last Thursday, the state had still not indicated which information was to be considered as part of the state's evidentiary material.
He said all the outstanding issues faced by Phahlane which delayed the start of the trial were caused by the state. Zakwe said Phahlane was arrested months after the first five co-accused were arrested and in each and every appearance, Phahlane had objected to further postponements.
Prosecutor Tilas Chabalala asked the court for time to respond to the application by Mphahlele.
Chabalala said Manthata's advocate, Laurance Hodes SC, should bring a substantive application for a permanent stay of prosecution, so that he could respond to it.
If the permanent stay is granted, it means the accused will not be prosecuted on the charges.
Hodes said there was no requirement in law for his client to bring a substantive application for a permanent stay of prosecution.
The court postponed the case until November 24 to hear the response by the prosecution.