Brothel search warrant was invalid

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Copy of IOL  Rugnath and his wife, Ravina The Mercury Doctor Genchen Rugnath and his wife, Ravina. Photo:Sandile Makhoba

Durban - A search

warrant that led to the discovery of several women and underage girls working at a brothel run from a Point lodge has been ruled invalid.

However, the Durban Regional Court has also ruled that the evidence gathered by police during the search was admissible. Magistrate Siphiwe Hlophe handed down his decision yesterday during a trial-within-a-trial involving uMhlanga doctor Genchen Rugnath, his wife, Ravina, and three others – Sandile Zweni, Nduduzo Dlamini and Bhabha Dubazani.

They have pleaded not guilty to more than 150 charges, including racketeering, human trafficking, rape and assault.

The Rugnaths own the Inn Town Lodge where some of the alleged offences took place.

The women and girls, aged between 13 and 25, were found during the raid in 2012.

The defence had opposed the admissibility of any evidence obtained during the raid, because they argued that the search warrant was invalid.

This had led to the trial-within-a-trial.

Hlophe found the warrant that the investigating officer, Warrant Officer Cyril Freese, had obtained was invalid as the execution of the warrant and the issue of the warrant itself did infringe on the constitutional rights of the accused. He said, though, that the admission of the evidence would not render the trial unfair.

State advocate Yuri Gangai had argued earlier that the police had applied for a search warrant, and had “done everything in their power not to infringe on the rights of the accused”.

He also argued that the state did not only rely on the search warrant to conduct the search, but was given consent from lodge manager Veena Budhram, who later turned State witness.

Advocate Jay Naidoo, representing Ravina Rugnath, had said the issue of consent played little or no role in the search warrant. He argued that if a warrant was found to be invalid, then a search was invalid.

Hlophe said yesterday that the reasons for the search warrant’s being declared invalid were that it did not specify whether the search was to be conducted during the day or night; applied to all girls or sex workers specifically; was for medicinal or illegal drugs; or whether it was for illegal or licensed firearms.

He found that the investigating officer had acted at all times in terms of the search warrant. “Although one can argue he (Freese) did not have valid consent, he did make an attempt to get consent. The evidence obtained was not coerced and there was no threat or intimidation (by the police),” said Hlophe.

The trial continues.

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