/ 14 August 2008

How Chinese whispers let Mti off the hook

A “grave mix-up” among three prosecutors led to Linda Mti, head of security for the 2010 football World Cup, walking free on charges of drunk-driving.

The Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court acquitted Mti in June after the state failed to call its main witness, the man driving the car into which Mti smashed his Volkswagen Touareg in peak Johannesburg traffic in 2006.

The Mail & Guardian has learned that prosecutor Mabuse Monareng should not have continued with the hearing after a senior prosecutor told him to ask for a postponement.

On the morning of the trial Monareng told the court’s senior prosecutor, Harry Khuvutla, that Abe Boshielo — the man Mti drove into –could not attend court. Two days before the trial Boshielo had given the investigating officer an affidavit clearing Mti of drunk-driving.

After hearing of the missing witness, Khuvutla phoned the chief prosecutor of Johannesburg’s magistrates’ courts, Arno van Wyk. Van Wyk said that Captain Primrose Novela, head of detectives at Sandringham police station and the investigating officer, should be called to explain why Boshielo wasn’t present at court. The intention was to give the court reasons for a postponement of the court case.

However, Monareng went ahead with the case and read out the charges of drunk-driving and negligent and reckless driving to Mti, who pleaded not guilty.

Monareng called his first witness, Captain Wilson Letsoalo, the police officer on the scene of the accident, who testified that Mti reeked of alcohol and could not stand upright.

The prosecutor then called the investigating officer, Novela, to give her evidence, presumably under the impression that the case could be postponed after she explained why Boshielo wasn’t at court.

Magistrate Sigqibo Mpela would have none of this and asked Monareng himself to explain why his main witness wasn’t present. After Monareng told Mpela that Boshielo couldn’t get off from work to attend proceedings, the magistrate lambasted the state for its unprofessional conduct and refused to grant another postponement. Mti was subsequently acquitted.

It now seems that a misunderstanding between Khuvutla and his junior colleague led to Monareng proceeding with the trial against Van Wyk’s instructions. It remains a mystery why Khuvutla chose Monareng, who has just seven months’ experience as a prosecutor, to handle the case against Mti, whose legal team included senior counsel.

The National Prosecuting Authority investigated the botched prosecution and both Monareng and Khuvutla received written warnings from Van Wyk that will remain in their files for six months.

The M&G has been told that Khuvutla’s recent transfer to the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court, where he is now tutoring junior prosecutors rather than handling cases in court, is linked to his handling of the Mti case.

The M&G has already reported that the investigation was controlled from the police’s Gauteng provincial office by the province’s head of detectives, Norman Taioe. A source close to the investigation said that, although Boshielo told a newspaper in 2006 that Mti was blind drunk, Novela couldn’t force him to make an incriminating sworn statement if he didn’t want to. Unwilling witnesses are normally subpoenaed and forced to go to court, however.

The police have previously declined to comment on whether disciplinary steps would also be taken against Novela and Taioe, saying only that the due process of the law has taken its course.