Courtroom drama in Travelgate case

The attorney representing Travelgate member of Parliament Nyami Booi was threatened with a contempt of court conviction on Tuesday after he and Booi walked out on the Cape Town regional magistrate dealing with the case.

The drama followed a bid by the attorney, Mario Wilker, for another postponement of the trial, which was meant to start on Monday.

He told magistrate Michelle Adams that he needed time to sit with Booi to prepare an application for an urgent high court review of her refusal on Monday to grant a longer postponement than the one day she allowed.

They also intended to appeal her refusal to allow him to withdraw from the case because there were no funds to pay his fees.

Wilker said Booi had a right to approach the high court, and the application was “bona fide and in the interests of justice”.

When Adams denied his request, Wilker asked to be excused because he had to work on the high court application.

“The court has already ruled,” said Adams.

At that, Wilker gathered up his file of papers and walked out of the courtroom, followed by Booi, who had been standing in the dock.

“I have to attend the high court in this matter,” he told Adams on the way out.

“I apologise, but in the circumstances I have no other option but to leave.”

Adams adjourned the court, and summoned both Wilker—who had not yet left the building—and prosecutor Jannie van Vuuren to her office.

After the meeting, Wilker and Booi re-entered the courtroom, where Wilker was overheard saying Adams was going to find him guilty of contempt.

When Adams returned to the bench after a break of about 10 minutes, Wilker told her he had “taken cognisance of your worship’s warning”, but that he had no option but to go to the high court.

“I mean no disrespect to your worship or the bench, but in the circumstances I’ve got no ...” he said before being interrupted by Adams, who said he was free to approach the high court, but had to do it within the rules of court and of etiquette.

She said she was granting a postponement of “one further day” to Wednesday to allow him to bring the application.

“If there’s a repetition of what happened this morning the court will take stern steps against you and your client,” she said.

Wilker said afterwards Adams had warned him in her office that she would find him guilty of contempt.

“But she obviously reconsidered and gave us another day,” he said.

He said he intended to bring the high court application on Tuesday afternoon.

Booi, former African National Congress chief whip in Parliament, is the last MP facing charges of fraud in relation to misuse of parliamentary air travel vouchers.

Thirty MPs and a handful of travel agency employees had already concluded plea agreements with the Scorpions.

He was accompanied at court on Tuesday by his brother Fumanekile Booi, national organiser for the Umkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans’ Association.—Sapa

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