/ 19 June 2008

Was Mti’s case cooked?

Huge gaps in the state’s case against 2010 Soccer World Cup head of security Linda Mti have raised concerns that his trial was ”cooked”.

Last week Mti was discharged by the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and reckless and negligent driving — after he smashed his Volkswagen Touareg into another vehicle in peak Johannesburg traffic in 2006.

Although blood tests showed he was more than four times over the legal limit, the state failed to prove its case and neglected to subpoena the main witness — the driver of the other car.

Magistrate Sigqibo Mpela lashed out at the state’s ”incompetent and unprofessional” conduct, saying that he lacked the words to describe it. A day after Mti was let off the hook the National Prosecuting Authority launched a formal investigation into prosecutor Mabuse Monareng’s handling of the case.

The Mail & Guardian has obtained further information that raises serious questions about the police and prosecution’s handling of the former prison boss’s case. The information reveals that:

  • The investigation was controlled from the police’s Gauteng provincial office by the province’s head of detectives, commissioner Norman Taioe;
  • The investigating officer obtained a sworn statement from the state’s main witness just two days before the commencement of the trial, 18 months after the accident; and
  • The trial went ahead without the main witness being present or summonsed to court.

The M&G has learned from reliable police sources that Gauteng provincial police commissioner Perumal Naidoo personally saw to it that Mti was released on bail on the night of his arrest.

In another strange turn of events, the driver of the vehicle with which Mti collided now denies that Mti was drunk, saying it was a ”normal accident”. Abe Boshielo, a driver at a public relations company in Sandton, told the Saturday Star in November 2006 that Mti was heavily intoxicated immediately after the crash.

”We both stopped to assess the damage. When he got out of his car he could not stand up straight and he was slurring,” Boshielo told the newspaper at the time. ”He said to me: ‘Do you know who I am? You can’t do this to me.’ I was only trying to get his details for insurance purposes because I need my car to get to work every day.”

Boshielo told the newspaper that Mti fell to the ground and ”slept in the sand” while waiting for the police to arrive.

This version was corroborated by police captain Wilson Letsoalo, who went to the scene. Letsoalo was the state’s only witness and testified that Boshielo asked for his help because Mti refused to give his particulars.

”Mti could not stand upright, he reeked of alcohol, he was staggering and he was uncooperative,” Letsoalo testified. ”He asked me: ‘Do you know me? Do you know who the commissioner of correctional services is? It’s me, Linda Mti. You do not deserve to be a police officer and you do not fit the profile of being a captain’.”

Since the defence indicated that they did not plan to query the blood tests, the state had only to prove that Mti was driving his vehicle at the time of the accident. But it failed to secure Boshielo’s attendance, while a further request for a postponement by Monareng was struck down.

Police insiders told the M&G they were sceptical from the start of the investigation when Captain Primrose Novela, head of detectives at Sandringham police station and the investigating officer, told her colleagues Taioe instructed her to report directly to him. ”The docket was always kept in a safe at the provincial office.”

A police source with knowledge of the case said Taioe regarded the investigation as a ”priority case” and personally took a warning statement from Mti.

But it was Novela who had to do the footwork and, according to the source, she struggled to get Boshielo to cooperate in the investigation. ”How can you force someone to make a statement if he doesn’t want to? To say something to a newspaper is different to saying something in an affidavit.”

But, says another police source, she should have subpoenaed the witness if he refused to cooperate. ”The Criminal Procedures Act makes provision for this. It is nonsense that you just leave a witness when he doesn’t want to cooperate. He could even be convicted for contempt of court.”

An NPA source expressed surprise that the only statement by Boshielo in the docket is dated June 10 this year, two days before the trial began. In it he denies that Mti was drunk.

”Why was he suddenly willing to make a statement when he refused to do so for a year?” asked the source.

In its statement the NPA said that a decision to prosecute is not taken casually and that every effort must be made to ensure the state can present a ”cogent and meticulously prepared case” to court.

The NPA’s Witwatersrand office is awaiting a report from Monareng on his handling of the case before deciding whether to institute disciplinary proceedings. If such a decision is made and he is found guilty, Monareng could be fired.

The Mti case is not be the first occasion Taioe’s conduct in criminal investigations has been questioned. As senior investigator in the Jacob Zuma rape trial, he was heavily criticised by Judge Willem van der Merwe for lying in his evidence and acting unconstitutionally.

Taioe is also involved in the fraud investigation of SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and was accused by businessman Charles Modise of ”luring” him to a meeting where he [Modise] was arrested by the Scorpions. After months of investigation the Nzimande docket has not been finalised.

Mti resigned as prisons boss in October 2006 after Beeld revealed his links to empowerment group Bosasa, which benefited substantially from correctional services tenders. This week he declined to comment on the conduct of the police and NPA, but denied that he had any personal relationships with Naidoo, Taioe or Novela.

Gauteng provincial police spokesperson Govindsamy Mariemuthoo declined to comment on specific questions, saying that ”the due process of the law has taken its course”.