Court gets tough on Travelgate MP Booi

A Cape Town regional magistrate put her foot down on Monday when she was told, on the day his trial was supposed to start, that Travelgate MP Nyami Booi had run out of money to pay his lawyers.

The magistrate, Michelle Adams, refused to allow attorney Mario Wilker to withdraw from the case, granting him only a one-day postponement to prepare.

Booi, who first appeared in court in February 2005, faces a charge of travel voucher fraud involving about R140 000.

His trial was to have started in September last year, but he applied for a postponement then, and again in December, when June 1 was set as the starting date.

When the case was called on Monday, Wilker told Adams he intended to withdraw as attorney of record because the funds that had been available to pay for Booi’s defence were used up on advocate’s fees during the earlier postponement applications.

However, Adams told him that after the last postponement was agreed to, in December, she had specifically raised the subject of “financial instructions” with senior counsel Jan Heunis, who at that stage was appearing for Booi.

She said Heunis had told her then that finances for a two-week trial were in place, and that forensic auditors hired by Booi would start work in January on drawing up a report for him.

She had also been assured that should these circumstances change, she would be told before the end of April.

When Wilker protested that he had not been in court that day, Adams said: “Mr Heunis was acting on your instructions.

“I’m not going to allow you to withdraw as counsel in this matter.”

Wilker also said though the auditors had been asked to provide a quote, they had not started drawing up the report because they had not been guaranteed payment.

Prosecutor Jannie van Vuuren told Adams that he too recalled that in December Heunis told the court there would be enough money.

“I’m also surprised that the funds have suddenly disappeared,” he said.

“The state is ready for trial, the state has consulted and there’s even witnesses present in court.”

After a brief adjournment, during which Van Vuuren and Wilker went to see Adams in her office, Wilker asked for a two-week postponement “to enable us to prepare properly for trial”.

Adams said Booi had in the past been accommodated through postponements to allow him to appoint counsel of his choice, and prepare adequately.

“I will roll over the matter till tomorrow when we will commence with trial,” she said.

Booi, an African National Congress member of Parliament, is a former chief whip of Parliament.

He currently chairs the National Assembly’s defence portfolio committee.

About 30 other MPs in the Travelgate saga have paid fines after concluding plea agreements with the Scorpions.—Sapa

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