Yengeni, Woerfel to Stand Trial
|Reporter||Sapa, Mariette le Roux|
The fraud and corruption trial of former African National Congress chief whip Tony Yengeni and businessman Michael Woerfel is to get underway after the Pretoria High Court on Wednesday declined to intervene.
Transvaal Judge President Bernard Ngoepe turned down an application by the pair to review the Commercial Crimes Court's dismissal of their objections to the charge sheet.
It had been wrong for the defence to bring review proceedings while the trial had not yet been concluded, he said in a written judgment
"The magistrate must conduct the entire trial in accordance with his own understanding and interpretation of the Corruption Act or any Act of Parliament or other law which may be of relevance.
"This court cannot be called upon from time to time to investigate piecemeal the correctness of his decisions or views," Ngoepe said.
"The court is not satisfied that were it not to intervene at this stage and allow the trial to proceed, grave injustice would ensue. The applicants can always avail themselves of the appropriate remedies in the event of their conviction."
The trial is expected to get underway before Commercial Crimes Court magistrate Bill Moyses in Pretoria on Thursday when Yengeni and Woerfel are due to plead to the charges.
The trial was initially scheduled to run from July 9 to Friday this week, but was delayed by extensive legal wrangling over the charge sheet --which the defence contended did not disclose an offence.
The politician faces a charge of corruption for allegedly buying a luxury Mercedes Benz 4x4 at a 47 percent discount in return for using his influence to "market" the products of DaimlerBenz Aerospace AG or DaimlerBenz Aerospace SA.
Woerfel, then head of DaimlerBenz's Pretoria representative office, is charged with corruption for allegedly arranging the deal.
DaimlerBenz Aerospace later became the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (Eads), of which Woerfel was the managing director. He was suspended from this post in July last year.
Eads 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. Both men face a charge of fraud for alleged false representations made in the agreement of sale.
Moyses earlier this month dismissed arguments by the defence that all the charges, except for the one of fraud against Woerfel, could be quashed.
Defence lawyers argued that for corruption charges to stand, the State had to prove Yengeni accepted a bribe with the intention of returning a favour using his influence as then chairman of Parliament's joint standing committee on defence.
The State, however, argued that the facts of the case led to only one conclusion -- that the benefit was given and received with corrupt intent.
On the alternative fraud charge against Yengeni, the defence argued he enjoyed immunity from criminal prosecution by virtue of parliamentary privilege.
Moyses ruled that the State need not prove a specific act by the recipient of a bribe for the crime of corruption to stand. He also dismissed the argument on immunity.
On Wednesday, Ngoepe said it was the wrong time for an inquiry into the correctness of the magistrate's findings.
"This court is not going to inquire into the correctness of the magistrate's substantive findings and interpretation of the law; certainly not now, at this stage."
A review could only succeed in the middle of a trial if it could be proven that a grave injustice would result if the proceedings were allowed to take their course. This was not the case, Ngoepe said.
"This is not one of those exceptional cases where intervention is called for."
Advocates for Yengeni and Woerfel were on Wednesday unable to disclose what their next step would be, saying they first had to study the judgment.
An appeal was "theoretically possible", said Mike Hellens, SC, for Woerfel.
As far as the State was concerned, the trial was continuing on Thursday, said prosecutor Jan Henning, SC.
"We are now where we were two-and-a-half weeks ago. If the trial had been allowed to continue then, we would have been finished by now."
With only two days left, the Commercial Crimes Court would be asked to set aside another three weeks for the completion of the trial, Henning said. It was not yet known when new date could be obtained, and this also depended on the availability of the advocates.
With acknowledgement to Sapa and Mariette le Roux.