It has been 16 months since the R191-million fraud and corruption trial involving former police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane and a string of former senior police officers was meant to begin.
When the commencement date of 16 November 2020 came around, it had been two years since the first arrests were made relating to an allegedly corrupt 2016 contract to fit Gauteng police vehicles with sirens, radios, blue lights and other equipment.
The other top cops are: former deputy national commissioner Bonang Mgwenya; former Gauteng commissioner Deliwe de Lange; Gauteng deputy commissioner Nombhuruza Napo; retired national supply-chain head Ramahlapi Mokwena; axed national supply-chain head James Ramanjalum; Thomas Marima and Maetapese Joseph Mulaiwa.
The civilians are Judy Rose, Samantha Andrews and Vimpie Manthatha, the owner of Instrumentation for Traffic Law Enforcement, which received the allegedly fraudulent tender.
They all face a combined 390 counts of corruption, fraud, theft and money laundering.
Below is a timeline of the case so far.
1 March 2016: The South African Police Service (Saps) in Gauteng begins a process to procure “emergency warning equipment” for 1 550 vehicles “without following the open tender or bid processes”, according to the charge sheet.
November 2016: The Gauteng police service awards the contract to equip 1 550 of its vehicles to Instrumentation for Traffic Law Enforcement, which allegedly submitted a fraudulent tax clearance certificate, and the awarding of the project is allegedly done outside an open bid process.
November 2018: De Lange, Mokwena, Ramajalum, Napo and Manthatha are the first people to be arrested, with the state initially quantifying the alleged corruption at R84-million. All accused are released on bail and indicate that they will plead not guilty to the charges.
February 2019: Temane Binang, an assistant director at the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, is granted a warrant to arrest former national commissioner Khomotso Phahlane, joining the other arrested cops.
March 2019: Phahlane is arrested and makes his first court appearance in the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court, where he is granted bail of R20 000.
At his second appearance, Phahlane, through his attorney Piet du Plessis, launches his first attempt to get the case dismissed, citing that a postponement application by the prosecutor, Richard Chabalala, would be “prejudicial” to his constitutional rights to a fair trial.
Magistrate Brian Nemavhidi granted the postponement.
July 2019: Search and seizure operation carried out at company owner Manthatha’s house, where evidence linked to the alleged payments Manthatha made to cops is allegedly unearthed. The state alleges that Manthatha gave gifts to officers, including payments towards former deputy national commissioner Mgwenya’s BMW X5.
December 2019: The matter is postponed to the following year because Chabalala requests more time for investigations.
“Investigations have also revealed that the financial affairs of some of the accused and their families are so intricate that the state needs more time to thoroughly examine their financial affairs,” Chabalala says in court.
The magistrate grants the state’s request.
October 2020: A month out from the expected start of the trial, Mgwenya is arrested and makes her first court appearance and is granted bail.
November 2020: On 16 November, the state indicates that it is ready to begin the trial. All accused, except Ramabulana and Mgwenya, unsuccessfully apply to have the case struck off the court roll. The matter is postponed to the following year for the state to give all the accused and their legal representatives electronic copies of the case docket, which it says runs into “millions of pages”.
February 2021: Phahlane’s lawyers receive the external hard drive from the investigator at the Johannesburg offices of the National Prosecuting Authority.
April 2021: BDK Attorneys, the law firm representing Phahlane, sends a letter to the state, complaining that they cannot open certain folders in the electronic case docket.
The attorneys also claim “insurmountable problems relating to the disclosure”, saying it was done “in a haphazard way on a number of occasions in such a fashion that it is now virtually impossible for us to establish what in fact entails the total disclosure by the state”.
The state arranges for two experts to help BDK Attorneys open the folders of the case docket. The attorneys are not satisfied.
June 2021: The magistrate issues a directive that, by the next court appearance in September, all technical problems related to the case docket be resolved, and that the state assists the defence in accessing the information.
September 2021: Despite acknowledging that the state has assisted in opening the problematic folders in the case docket, Phahlane and Mgwenya, through their legal representatives, launch applications to have the matter struck out of court again.
This time, the two say the alleged haphazard way in which the state availed the contents of the case docket against them was not “proper disclosure”.
February – March 2022: Arguments are heard in the application filed by Phahlane and Mgwenya, alleging that the “disclosure process cannot be said to have taken place properly, effectively or completely”.
This is rejected by the prosecutor Chabalala, who asserts that it is “now very clear that accused 7 [Phahlane] does not want the case to go on trial”.
“What he wants is the removal of the case from the court roll and nothing else,” Chabalala says.