Yengeni, Woerfel Trial Postponed
The fraud and corruption trial of former African National Congress chief whip Tony Yengeni and businessman Michael Woerfel was postponed on Wednesday in Pretoria's Specialist Commercial Crimes Court to Monday next week.
On that day, Magistrate Bill Moyses will give judgment in an application by the defence that most of the charges against the two men be thrown out.
Yengeni faces a charge of corruption for allegedly buying a luxury Mercedes Benz 4X4 vehicle at a 47 percent discount in return for using his influence to "market" the products of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG.
He faces an alternative charge of fraud for failing to disclose the benefit to Parliament.
Woerfel, then managing director of DaimlerChrysler's predecessor — the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) — is charged with corruption for organising the car deal.
Both face a charge of fraud in relation to alleged false representations made in the agreement of sale.
Court asked to quash (sic) charges
They have asked the court to quash all the charges, except for the one count of fraud against Woerfel — saying the State had no case.
On Wednesday, defence lawyers likened the circumstances of the case to Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi's recent gift of a limousine to President Thabo Mbeki, and a car donated to former president Nelson Mandela by Mercedes Benz.
It would be ridiculous to charge the two leaders with corruption merely for accepting the gifts, they contended. To prove corruption, one had to determine that the recipients, by virtue of their positions, returned special favours.
In this case, the State was not able to prove that Yengeni had done any favours in return for the special car deal, or that the transaction was concluded with this in mind, defence advocates argued.
"If the State does not know something it cannot allege it, and if it cannot allege it, it cannot prove it," said Hilton Epstein, SC, for Yengeni.
He also argued that every accused person had the Constitutional right to be informed of the detail of the crime he was charged with in order to be able to answer it properly.
For Woerfel, Michael Hellens, SC, contended it was not an offence to give somebody a benefit merely because of the office he holds.
Corruption also means favour for bribe doesn't have to be returned
On Tuesday, the State argued that one need not return any favours for accepting a bribe in order to be guilty of corruption.
"It is in law immaterial whether any act was in fact committed or omitted (in return for a bribe). The real question here is: Did you receive a benefit, and if so, why?" said Jan Henning, SC, for the State.
He told the court there was no need for the State to determine the exact nature of the favour promised in return for a bribe. It happened all the time that officials were bought with the eye on unspecified preferential treatment later on.
One could be convicted of corruption even if you had no intention of acting on a bribe, or if you did not have the power to do so.
Yengeni bought 4X4 for nearly half of retail value
The State alleges that Woerfel sold the car to Yengeni for R182 563, nearly half the retail price of R349 950. Yengeni was at the time chairman of Parliament's joint standing committee on defence. He sold the Mercedes for R220 000 in November last year.
EADS — a joint venture between DaimlerChrysler Aerospace and two European companies — has a 33 percent stake in Reutech Radar Systems, a Stellenbosch-based company that secured a R220-million contract to provide radar technology for four corvettes that form part of the country's multi-billion rand arms acquisition programme.
Henning on Tuesday said only one conclusion could be drawn — that the benefit was given and received with corrupt intent.
Should the court uphold the defence's objections to the charge sheet, it could be referred back to the State for redrafting or be thrown out.
Should the objections be dismissed, the trial will start in earnest. The men have not yet pleaded.
With acknowledgements to Sapa and iafrica.com.