Courts cleared Savoi's Angola trip

Both the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court and the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court gave permission to fraud and corruption accused Gaston Savoi to undertake a business trip to Angola in July, the Mail & Guardian established this week.

The trip was subsequently aborted when the Hawks allegedly threatened Savoi with arrest if he tried to leave South Africa.

In an interview with City Press last weekend the national director of public prosecutions, Menzi Simelane, claimed that the suspended head of the KwaZulu-Natal asset forfeiture unit (AFU), Knorx Molelle, had “cut deals” with Savoi to visit Angola. As a result, Molelle had been stripped of his powers to make such arrangements with accused people.

However, senior sources at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), under which the unit falls, who asked not to be named, said the unit had no mandate to approve deals with the defence team. As a respected advocate, Molelle could make suggestions, but all agreements had to be approved by lead prosecutors in the case.

“Molelle has not cut any deals with Savoi. Let them try to charge him,” said the source. “It’s another attempt to smear the top management members of the AFU so Simelane can get rid of them and control the unit.”

Simelane’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, has previously denied claims that Simelane wants to take control of the unit. Mhaga said there would be no further comment on allegations made about Molelle and Savoi’s proposed trip to Angola.

“The NPA has communicated the reasons that informed the decisions in respect of this matter, we will allow the internal processes and court processes, if any, to run their course and not comment further.”

Molelle could not be reached for comment.

Flight risk
The M&G understands that Savoi has travelled to France since his arrest last year, with the approval of the state’s prosecution team, which did not consider him a flight risk at the time.

But the proposed trip to Angola, where Savoi is apparently selling and installing water purification plants, caused concern among NPA and Hawks officials, as well as police investigating officers, because there is no extradition treaty with Angola and the fingerprints taken from Savoi were of “poor quality”, making him a flight risk.

The M&G can disclose that the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court agreed to let Savoi go to Angola and that the NPA appealed against the decision. The appeal was struck off the roll by Judge Mmathebe Phatshoane in the Northern Cape High Court, who found that the state had not obtained prior leave to appeal.

Savoi applied last week to the Northern Cape High Court to amend his bail conditions so that he would not have to seek the permission of investigating officers to leave South Africa. He would still have to notify police at least 10 days in advance, said his attorney, George van Niekerk of Edward Nathan Sonnenberg.

Van Niekerk said the application had been made because Savoi believed the authorities had acted in bad faith in preventing him from travelling.

“We applied on Thursday last week for leave for Dr Savoi to travel with fewer restrictions than before,” said Van Niekerk. “Judgment has been reserved. We’ll hear in the next week, hopefully.”

According to court papers filed in the Northern Cape High Court, Savoi was threatened with arrest by a Hawks investigator, Clarence Jones, if he left the country, in spite of the fact that the courts had approved the trip to Angola.

Jones declined to comment. But in an affidavit filed in the Northern Cape High Court he said he had not “blatantly” threatened to arrest Savoi if he tried to leave South Africa, but had asked Savoi’s lawyers to come to his office to deal with new evidence in the case.

In his high court affidavit Savoi said he wanted the court to understand that he could not travel to another country and disappear.

“I am most certainly not prepared to travel to some remote place and hide from this case. I have very strong family ties, not to mention my business ties in this country,” he said. “My profile is such that I could never settle in another country and live normally without being obvious to the authorities.”

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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