Sodi’s lawyers blast NPA for asbestos trial delays

Businessman Edwin Sodi’s lawyers have taken the National Prosecuting Authority to task over the state’s readiness to proceed with his asbestos criminal trial featuring former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Ian Levitt Attorneys complained to Free State Judge President Cagney Musi on March 12, citing that the NPA had conceded that the docket would be supplemented yet again, despite the trial date being just a month away and despite all interlocutory applications having been completed.

Ian Levitt said the NPA also made two more concessions: that there had been “misfiling” or an error on its end, which had not been remedied on the side of the accused and that the state had not secured the attendance of one of the accused, US-based Moroadi Cholota, for the trial. It also cannot confirm whether or not she will in fact be ready on time for the trial.

Cholota was Magashule’s PA when he was Free State premier until 2017.

“Given the magnitude of the docket and the seriousness of the allegations, one would expect the state to have provided the accused with a list of witnesses and an index and pagination of the docket, which has not occurred. One would also expect the state to have already initiated a pre-trial conference to iron out preliminary pre-trial issues,” the lawyers protested.

The complaint to Musi forced the parties to convene a judicial case management meeting last Thursday, during which the scheduled start of the trial on April 15 was put on hold pending the outcome of further case management discussions before an open court on April 18.

Sodi, Magashule and other co-accused face charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering for the failed R250-million contract the Free State department of human settlements awarded to Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting for the assessment, audit and removal of asbestos roofing from houses across the province.

The NPA has told Sodi’s lawyers that there was indeed a misfile, “which was corrected in the last supplied docket”.

It said the initial supplied docket containing statements and affidavits by state witnesses had not changed in any way.

“As I indicated in court, the investigators never stop investigating a matter of this nature. As and when new information or evidence is received, it is investigated and filed in the docket. Such information or evi-dence is also forwarded to the forensic auditors for analysis,” said state prosecutor Johannes de Nysschen.

De Nysschen said: “On face value, it may appear as if a huge amount of ‘new’ information or evidence has been ‘dumped’ on the defence; however, as is pointed out infra, very little of the ‘new’ docket has a speci-fic bearing on the allegations against the accused.”

He confirmed that the NPA had enlisted the services of forensic investigations firm FTI Consulting and its report formed a large part of the new evidence the state wanted to share with the accused.

“It must be noted that the FTI report contains the larger part of evidence and especially the exhibits comprising thousands of pages. Therefore, in our view, the defence has had all the necessary information to prepare, especially because the FTI report is basically a summary of the whole state case.”

Regarding Cholota, De Nysschen said the extradition process was in its formal stage.

“We unfortunately cannot at this stage give a precise timeline of when she will be in SA, but we sincerely hope that she will be in SA by the 15th of April. If she is extradited before the 15th, we foresee that the case might be postponed or delayed for obvious reasons.”

Ian Levitt said Sodi’s constitutional rights to a fair and speedy trial had been disregarded.

“We believe it to be in the interests of justice and of great assistance to the court, the state, and all of the accused in this matter that a case management meeting be convened in order to confirm all of the parties’ trial readiness before the commencement of the full term trial and to mitigate any further unnecessary costs being incurred in these proceedings.”

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