ANC heavyweight Mike Mabuyakhulu loses bid to quash corruption and money-laundering charges
Provincial ANC heavyweight Mike Mabuyakhulu has failed in his attempt to quash corruption and money-laundering charges he is facing relating to a R300,000 "gratification" he allegedly received relating to the failed North Sea Jazz Festival in 2012.
Mabuyakhulu, who is ANC deputy chair in the province, was forced to withdraw his name from the party’s provincial list ahead of last month’s national election after he was arrested along with 15 others last year.
He first, unsuccessfully, attempted to sway prosecutors into letting him stand trial separately, in the hope of clearing his name ahead of the elections and allowing him to take up public office again.
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He then launched an application to have the charges quashed, arguing prejudice and claiming there was political interference at play.
If he had succeeded, the case against all the accused would have been struck from the roll and could only be reinstated with the authority of the director of public prosecutions (DPP).
But Durban Commercial Crime Court magistrate Dawn Soomaroo ruled against him on Wednesday.
Mabuyakhulu is presently facing five charges in what the state now says is a final indictment after amending a previous indictment served on him and the other accused in October last year.
The essence of the changes is that he is now being charged as a holder of public office - as the MEC for economic affairs and tourism and the chair of the province’s sub-committee on major events at the time.
He is accused of abusing his position of authority and a breach of trust.
The R300,000 in question was either a "benefit to himself or another person", it is alleged.
He is accused of using his influence to the benefit of others.
The change to the charges was one of the main thrusts of his argument that he should not be forced to stand trial without the DPP first "casting a fresh eye" over the case.
He claimed financial prejudice because he had already requested further particulars relating to the initial indictment and now would be forced to begin that process from scratch, resulting in trial delays.
It emerged during argument that the defence team had met with the prosecutions team in August last year.
While the state claimed that at this meeting his advocate, Jimmy Howse, had suggested he become a “204 witness” (a witness implicated in the crime who gives evidence on behalf of the state in return for immunity from prosecution) against the other accused, this was denied by Howse. He said it had only been suggested that he could be "a witness".
In her ruling, magistrate Soomaroo agreed with submission by the state that the charges, in essence, had remained the same.
There was no new information in the docket, the witnesses were the same and "the golden thread" - involving allegations of corruption and money-laundering relating to R300,000 - remained the same.
She said there was no evidence of any political interference. Mabuyakhulu had been arrested at the same time as everyone else, after a complex five-year investigation into what was alleged to be a crime involving R28m.
She said Mabuyakhulu had presented "speculative" and not "definitive" prejudice.
"Public funds are involved and the public has a direct interest in the outcome of this matter. If it is struck from the roll, it will bring the administration of justice into disrepute because it will mean the charges will have to be withdrawn against all the accused."
An option now open to Mabuyakhulu is to make an application to the high court for a permanent stay of prosecution. But advocate Howse declined to say whether or not this was on the cards.
"We are still digesting this ruling," he told TimesLIVE.
Mabuyakhulu and his co-accused - who include the former head of his department Desmond Golding and individuals and companies who allegedly were paid for the festival - will appear in court again early next month.
Ultimately the matter will be transferred for trial to the high court.