State To Fight Extra Delay In Yengeni Trial
Legal Aid Board refuses to pay his legal costs
NATIONAL Prosecuting Authority director Jan Henning said yesterday that he would "vigorously oppose" any further delays in Tony Yengeni's fraud trial after news that the MP had asked the Legal Aid Board to reconsider its decision to refuse him aid.
The board turned down a request by Yengeni for aid as he earned "substantially more" than its means test allowed for.
Yengeni has appealed against the ruling, and is expected to find out next week if the board has reconsidered its decision.
Legal experts say the options facing Yengeni, if he cannot afford to pay his own legal team, are to represent himself, ask for a postponement while he finds the money for the new team or to ask the state to provide him with a team, which will most probably result in another request for a postponement if the team is new as they will have to familiarise themselves with the case.
"As far as we are concerned February 11 is the date that the case will proceed," said Henning.
"Yengeni has had more than enough time to get his house in order, and he is not the only party involved. His co-accused, Michael Woerfel, and witnesses have also been affected by the delays, and the court dates have been finalised," he said.
Yengeni and Woerful are facing charges of fraud and corruption connected to the government's controversial multibillion-rand arms programme.
Yengeni's previous team withdrew evidently because he owed them more than R800 000 in legal fees. Neither the Yengeni nor the Woerfel legal teams was aware yesterday of the request or the decision by the board. Woerfel's advocate, Barry Roux, expressed concern about the effect of a delay on the fraud trial.
The trial has seen one delay after another since Yengeni first appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court in October 2001.
On May 15 2001 the defence team said they needed more time to study documents, and in July Yengeni's legal team asked for the case to be quashed because of lack of evidence. The accused later launched objections against the charges, and the matter was referred to the Pretoria High Court, which dismissed defence objections to the charge sheet.
The case was then postponed to January 23 in the Pretoria Commercial Court. On that date Yengeni's new legal team said it was not ready to proceed with the trial, and the matter was postponed to February 11.
Funding for Yengeni's trial has been controversial from the start. Former Zama CEO Mcebisi Mlonzi was listed in last year's parliamentary register of members' interests by Yengeni as having bankrolled his trial fees.
With acknowledgements to Chantelle Benjamin and Business Day.