Durban - One of the traffic officers on trial for alleged fraud and corruption at the Mandeni driving test centre was back in jail last night after claims that he interfered with a witness.
Mmangaliso Mthembu, 31, of Sundumbile, was arrested on Wednesday after the Eshowe Regional Court prosecutor issued a warrant for his arrest because he allegedly contacted a witness.
He is one of 20 accused - 11 former Mandeni staff and nine driving instructors - being tried on a total of 207 fraud, corruption and racketeering charges.
The State says test centre staff colluded to issue scores of illegal licences in 2009 and 2010. It alleges that in some cases officers colluded with driving schools.
It is alleged that driving licence applicants were not examined or tested, test sheets were fraudulently completed, and licences were issued to people who were not competent to drive.
All the accused were granted bail on condition they did not contact witnesses.
On Thursday, after appearing in the regional court in the morning, Mthembu appeared in a magistrate’s court, on the new charge of intimidation.
His lawyer, Veronica Singh, said he would apply for bail again. ”He needs to consult with me to prepare for his trial,” she said, adding that it would be difficult if he was in jail.
She said that they were disputing the witness’s version of events. “It’s just a tactic to have the accused incarcerated for a long time.”
The witness who laid the complaint of intimidation, Monica Mthembu, testified against the traffic officer in the regional court on Wednesday.
She told the court that a man she knew only as Sifiso had said she could buy a driving licence if she went to the Mandeni testing centre and spoke to a traffic officer called Mthembu.
She said she went to the centre in June 2009 and gave R4 000 to Mmangaliso Mthembu. He left and, a little while later another person appeared and gave her a licence.
During cross-examination, Singh suggested to her that she had laid the charge of intimidation only after Mmangaliso Mthembu had refused her demand that he pay her to change her statement.
Magistrate TC Scott-Barnes said that if an accused who was already out on bail committed an offence, it immediately became a Schedule 5 offence, which meant the grounds for granting bail became more stringent. Mmangaliso Mthembu could be granted bail again only “if it is in the interests of justice that he be released”.
A bail application hearing was set down for Friday.