Trial Delayed Again as Yengeni Appoints New Defence Team
Pretoria: More than 16 months after Tony Yengeni's arrest, the trial of the former African National Congress chief whip and businessman Michael Woerfel has yet to start.
Yesterday's delay in the Pretoria Commercial Crimes Court trial was caused by Yengeni appointing a new legal team.
According to Beeld newspaper, his counsel withdrew because Yengeni allegedly owed them R800 000.
Yengeni himself declined to comment on the matter.
He faces a charge of corruption for allegedly buying a luxury 4x4 Mercedes at 47% discount in return for using his influence to "market" the products of Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG or Daimler-Benz Aerospace SA.
He also faces an alternative count of fraud for failing to disclose the benefit to parliament.
Woerfel, who headed Daimler-Benz's Pretoria representative office at the time, is charged with corruption for allegedly arranging the deal.
Daimler-Benz manufactures the AT2000 - which was considered with two other aircraft to fulfil South Africa's need for advanced light fighter aircraft.
Both men also face a charge of fraud for alleged false representations made in the agreement of sale drawn up for the car deal. They have pleaded not guilty.
Yengeni and Woerfel were arrested in October 2001, while the corruption allegations appeared in a Sunday newspaper in March 2001.
The trial was initially scheduled for July last year, but extensive legal wrangling has delayed the legal process.
After magistrate Bill Moyses dismissed the defence counsel's objections that the charge sheet constituted no offence, they took the case to the Pretoria High Court but failed again.
At the start of yesterday's proceedings, the court was informed of the change of legal representation.
The new counsel, Viwe Notshe, SC, and instructing attorney Brian Mashile had not had enough time to prepare.
Moyses postponed the case until February 11.
It was originally scheduled to run until next Thursday and then resume from February 11 to 21 and again from March 19 to 25.
The state has now also scheduled July 15 to 18 and July 22 to 24 to make up for lost time.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said yesterday that Yengeni should not think that hiring and firing legal teams, or failing to pay them, would stave off the scrutiny of the courts indefinitely.
"While he may be on the political comeback trail, as evidenced by his return to the ANC NEC (national executive council), he cannot evade the verdict of the courts forever," DA spokeswoman Raenette Taljaard said in a statement.
"Playing musical chairs with his legal counsel is both undignified and a frustration of the judicial process." Taljaard also asked why no one else besides Yengeni, Woerfel and Schabir Shaik had been charged in connection with arms acquisition process.
Shaik - who was director of the Africa Defence Systems company that secured a contract in the arms deal - was arrested in 2001 on charges relating to conflict of interest arising from the acquisition process. His brother Chippy was head of the defence procurement programme.
Taljaard asked why the Scorpions had not concluded further investigations or brought any further charges in connection with the arms deal.
"It has been more than a year since National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ncguka promised Parliament that further arrests were 'imminent'.
"The gestation period for 'imminent arrests' seem to rival an elephant birth."
With acknowledgements to Sapa and Cape Times.