Tony Yengeni's Absurd Defence
|Publication||Mail & Guardian|
|Reporter||Mariette le Roux and Sapa|
A Pretoria High Court judge on Tuesday described an argument on behalf of Tony Yengeni as "preposterous" when it was suggested that the former ANC chief whip was protected from criminal prosecution by his parliamentary privilege.
Lawyers for Yengeni argued that a charge of fraud for allegedly failing to disclose a benefit to Parliament should fall away.
Hilton Epstein, SC, told the court that disclosures made to a confidential register of members' interests were in any event protected by parliamentary privilege.
The register was divided into two parts - one for public disclosures of benefits received and a confidential part listing the value of such benefits.
However, Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe asked whether it meant that one could make false claims in the register and not be prosecuted.
"I can't think of a more preposterous idea than that. I think your submission is quite startling," he said before the tea break.
According to Ngoepe, Epstein was stretching the limits of a constitutional section dealing with parliamentary privilege.
Yengeni faces an alternate charge of fraud to a main charge of corruption for allegedly buying a luxury Mercedes Benz 4x4 at a 47% discount in return for using his influence to "market" the products of DaimlerBenz Aerospace AG.
He was at the time the chairman of Parliament's joint standing committee on defence.
Businessman Michael Woerfel, then managing director of DaimlerBenz's successor - the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (Eads) -is charged with corruption for allegedly arranging the car deal.
Both face a charge of fraud in connection with alleged false representations made in the agreement of sale. Earlier this month the Pretoria Commercial Crimes Court dismissed the pair's objections to the charge sheet which they claimed did not disclose any crimes.
They have now taken the matter on review to the High Court, but only in connection with the corruption charges and the alternate fraud charge.
Eads has a 33% 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.
With acknowledgements to Mariette le Roux, Sapa and Mail & Guardian.