Former Free State premier Ace Magashule. (Mlungisi Louw/Volksblad/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
The high court in Mangaung has postponed the pre-trial hearing of suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, and 16 other accused in the R255-million asbestos corruption case, to 29 January next year.
The postponement will allow Magashule, “tenderpreneur” Edwin Sodi and former human settlements head Thabane Zulu to approach the supreme court of appeal for leave to appeal the high court ruling which dismissed their earlier request for a stay of prosecution.
It will also give the state more time to have Magashule’s former personal assistant Moroadi Cholota extradited from the United States.
Magashule and his co-accused were arrested by the Hawks over the tender to remove asbestos roofing from low-cost housing in the Free State, awarded during his tenure as premier, to Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting.
The court heard that the prosecution hopes to have Cholota, who had previously been listed as a state witness in the case, extradited from the United States by the time the court sits again.
Prosecutor Johan de Nysschen told the court the state did not intend to make any further arrests before the trial started and would not further amend the indictment in the case.
Cholota had been written into the indictment as a co-accused. If she was returned to South Africa by the time the case began, she would be tried along with the other accused. If not, the matter would go ahead without her.
“We do not intend to arrest anybody else before this trial starts. We have all the accused here except for Cholota … we are waiting for the Americans to extradite her,” De Nysschen said.
De Nysschen denied claims by Magashule — made through his counsel Laurence Hodes — that the case was politically motivated and that delays in getting the matter underway were aimed at keeping him out of the ANC’s succession race and the ruling party’s “top six” officials.
He said the delay was necessary to deal with the “collateral issues”, which included Magashule’s approach to the SCA, before the criminal trial proper got underway.
The state had “no problem” with the accused in the case exercising their rights and making the applications but Magashule needed to “understand that these things take time.”
“You cannot blame the state for the delay. We are opposing the applications but that is not what is delaying the process,” he said.
“We do not do politics. There is no political interference. Nobody has phoned me and told me to do this or do that. We determine charges on facts.”
De Nysschen said the state would also oppose any application by Magashule to have his trial conducted separately.
The trial is expected to take at least a year, once it begins in earnest.
During the proceedings, Magashule attempted to address the court directly and an adjournment was granted to allow him to brief Hodes to speak on his behalf.
Speaking through Hodes, Magashule said he believed the state was not “playing open cards” and was not ready to go ahead with the trial.
He would be happier if the state went ahead with his trial separately from the other accused as this would “have respect for his political career and the prejudice it has caused him”.
The postponement was “purely a delaying tactic” to “prevent him from standing for a position within the ruling party” at its elective national conference in December.