Axed Prasa boss Mthimkhulu’s bid to postpone fraud case rejected

Axed Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) executive engineer Daniel Mthimkhulu’s bid to have his fraud case postponed has fallen flat.

Mthimkhulu appeared in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crime Court on Thursday on nine counts of fraud.

He has already been convicted on three counts of fraud in 2022 for allegedly misrepresenting his qualifications to the agency after he claimed to possess a doctorate in engineering management from Technische Universitat Munchen (Munich Technical University) in Germany.

Mthimkhulu’s attempt to have the matter postponed on Thursday was rejected after he struggled to explain to magistrate Phillip Venter why he arrived in court without his lawyer.

This comes after he was already granted two weeks on March 1, when Venter gave him clear instructions to appear with a legal representation on March 14 or to represent himself.

Failure to obtain court documents

He requested a two-week postponement, arguing that he could not gain access to the case documents. 

Mthimkhulu told the court that he went from pillar to post in an attempt to gain access to the case documents in order to prepare his lawyer, whom he is said to have been liaising with over the past few weeks.

“I have put together the funds as instructed. I have not paid him yet, and I need two more weeks for my lawyer to prepare himself,” he told the court.

“I did not have access to all my other case documents. He is not here, but I have arranged with him. He told me to come to court and explain.”

Prosecutor William Coetzer declined Mthimkhulu’s request to have the matter postponed, saying the matter would proceed and offering to assist him in obtaining the case documents.

“There is a lack of urgency from your [Mthimkhulu] side. There is no guarantee that you will comply within the next two weeks that you have requested,” Venter said.

“I have spent more than three hours preparing for this matter. I will not agree to another postponement.

“The application to remand is declined. We will continue, and you will be given a chance to argue before the court.”

Work ethic unquestionable

After a short break, the court heard the testimony of a witness, Nonhlanhla Kondowe, who was a former colleague of Mthimkhulu and held several positions at Prasa, including acting as the general manager.

She attested that she was familiar with Mthimkhulu due to her lengthy career at Prasa. This is despite the fact that they never worked together.

Kondowe testified that Mthimkhulu left a positive mark; his work quality was much better than his colleagues, and his work ethic was unquestionable.

Kondowe stated that Mthimkhulu’s colleagues continued to refer positively to him even after he was dismissed.

They admired him and appreciated what he had achieved during his time at Prasa.

In a sworn statement, the former Group CEO of Prasa, Tshepo Lucky Montana, stated: “According to the best of my knowledge and records, Mthimkhulu is a highly skilled and experienced individual who came through the ranks of Transnet and Prasa as a dedicated manager who gave his best to his work and executed his responsibilities diligently.”

In her statement, Lungile Gabela, the recruitment and selection manager for Prasa, stated: “According to my knowledge and records, Mthimkhulu is a highly skilled and experienced individual who came through the ranks with Transnet and Prasa as a dedicated employee who gave his all to his work and executed his responsibilities diligently.

“He contributed to the success of Prasa rail engineering, which was on the verge of collapse.”

R3.5-billion tender

The prosecutors stated that some paragraphs in the two statements were similar.

Sithembiso Bhengu, one of the prosecutors, said that this leaves uncertainty about the credibility thereof and, to a greater extent, the unsworn statement.

Mthimkhulu will appear before the court again on Friday to hear from the probation officer and to make arguments before judgment and sentencing.

During his time at Prasa as an executive manager, heading the engineering services, Mthimkhulu’s annual salary shot up from R1.6-million to R2.8-million.

In June 2010, he lied to Prasa about a job offer that he received in Germany for a position as an engineer services specialist at a salary of R2.8-million per year.

Prasa made Mthimkhulu a counter-offer in September 2010. 

The Supreme Court of Appeal found that Mthimkhulu played a key role that led the agency to approve a tender to Swifambo Rail Leasing amounting to R3.5-billion for trains unsuitable for the country’s infrastructure rail network in 2013.

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