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Durban - Umhlanga doctor Genchen Rugnath and his wife, Ravina, were warned by a magistrate on Monday that they could be fined R100 million or go to jail for life if they were convicted of the human trafficking and racketeering charges relating to their alleged ownership of a Point Road brothel.
Rugnath, who runs a practice in Phoenix, Ravina and three others, Sandile Zweni, Nduduzo Dlamini and Bhabha Dubazani, all pleaded not guilty to the 156 charges they collectively face at the start of their trial before Durban Regional Court magistrate Simphiwe Hlophe.
Among the allegations are that about 22 women and girls were recruited to work in the brothel which was run from the 32-room Inntown Holiday Lodge, owned by the Rugnaths.
The State alleges one was only 12 at the time of her recruitment, while others ranged in age between 13 and 25.
According to the charge sheet read out by the prosecutor, advocate Val Dafel, the State alleges that both Rugnaths were involved in the running of the brothel.
It alleges that “the doctor” would visit frequently and benefited from prostitution through rent. His wife was also a frequent visitor who assisted in overseeing the management of the brothel.
Zweni, who also ran a drug business, employed and exercised control over the prostitutes. He employed Dlamini and Dubazani as drug runners and guards. The three of them recruited the prostitutes and introduced them to drugs. They gave them R25 a day from their earnings to buy food.
The State alleges many of the prostitutes did not have freedom, they were not allowed to leave the premises on their own and those who escaped were assaulted and brought back. Two of them were raped by Zweni, it is alleged.
Zweni, in his plea explanation read out by his attorney Mbuyiselo July, denied all of this.
He said he ran a business ferrying schoolchildren from the beachfront and Point areas to schools in Morningside and workers to Umlazi.
His collection and drop-off point was the Apples clothing shop, next door to the Inntown Lodge, and he had become friends with the staff there.
He said he had also “bought sex from the girls who loitered there”, but he had always taken them back to his home.
Zweni said Dlamini was his cousin and he knew Dubazani because he “was in a love relationship” with one of the prostitutes, but he had never met either of the Rugnaths “and I cannot recall ever seeing them at the Inntown Lodge”.
Dlamini and Dubazani have elected not to disclose their defence, but the Rugnaths were expected to submit lengthy plea explanations on Tuesday morning.