Costly Yengeni Trial Off Again
Pretoria - Plane tickets and hotel bookings to the value of thousands of rands had to be cancelled hurriedly as Tony Yengeni's new legal team said wasn't ready to proceed with his corruption trial.
The former African National Congress chief whip's previous legal team withdrew when he previously appeared in the Pretoria commercial court because he apparently owed them more than R800 000 in legal fees.
Yengeni is standing trial with Michael Woerfel of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (Eads) on charges of fraud and corruption connected to the government's multimillion-rand arms deal.
The state was forced to cancel travel and accommodation arrangement for seven witnesses from Cape Town and one from Turkey after Yengeni's legal council indicated last week they would not be ready to proceed.
Five witnesses from Pretoria and Johannesburg, including DaimlerChrysler's South African chief, had to rearrange busy work schedules to accommodate consultations with the State and to testify.
Flew from Turkey in vain
These developments follow on top of parliamentary special leave granted to Yengeni to prepare for the trial.
For a previous court appearance, the witness from Turkey had flown to South African in vain.
At the start of the trial Woerfel and Yengeni lodged objections against the charges, despite requests to inform the State timeously.
The court wasted three weeks after these objections were heard in the Pretoria High Court, and turned down.
National Prosecuting Authority director and prosecutor Jan Henning SC said: "If a man appoints the country's top advocates, he should be able to pay them. They have not been paid for a month's court time. It is unacceptable."
He says due process is prejudiced when court cases are allowed to drag on.
"Valuable court time is squandered. Commercial courts are among those with the highest productivity and heaviest work load. The nature of commercial cases makes it virtually impossible to replace them with other cases at short notice."
"This means the court does nothing for another week. It is expected that Yengeni, by virtue of his position, should be aware of the importance of reducing crammed court rolls," said Henning.
Last year, a total of 3 000 new cases were added to commercial courts and they managed to clear between five and seven cases a week on average.
The State claims Woerfel sold a new Mercedes-Benz ML320 to Yengeni for R182 563 on behalf of DaimlerChrysler in 1998. The vehicle was reportedly worth R329 895.
Yengeni is said to have promised Woerfel to exert his influence in securing the arms deal in favour of Eads. At the time, Yengeni chaired the parliamentary standing committee for defence.
With acknowledgements to Sonja Carstens and Beeld.