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Durban - Five months after having a major fallout with their lawyers, two alleged brothel owners, uMhlanga doctor Genchen Rugnath and his wife, Ravina, have re-hired them.
In an unusual move, the doctor and wife have retained the services of advocate Jimmy Howse as a “watching brief” to sit in the courtroom and monitor the trial before Durban Regional Court magistrate Simphiwe Hlophe in which they and three others are charged with racketeering.
The fallout became public in February when, with the first witness in the case against them still under cross-examination, the couple complained to Hlophe that their lawyer, Anand Nepaul, had “treated them badly” at times.
Nepaul then insisted he could no longer stay on the case, saying there had been a breakdown in trust. Both he and Jay Naidoo, the advocate he had briefed to represent Ravina Rugnath, withdrew.
Attorney Mervyn Maistry was then hired and he briefed Howse. The trial was stalled while they made representations to the director of public prosecutions, asking that the prosecution be stopped, which were unsuccessful.
On Monday when the trial resumed, Nepaul and Naidoo were back in the defence seats.
Nepaul placed on the record that the conflict had been resolved and “the accused have apologised for putting us in the position they did”.
He then successfully opposed an application by the State for the witness Yvonne Shinga to read the 500-page transcript of the proceedings so far - about 400 pages of which dealt with her evidence and cross-examination.
State advocate Yuri Gangai said it was only fair because Shinga had testified six months ago and she needed to refresh her memory.
But Nepaul said this was akin to her being given a script and rehearsing her lines before cross-examination resumed.
“It would defeat one of the cornerstones of a fair trial - the right to cross-examine,” he said.
The magistrate said while it was unfair that there had been a long time lapse, there was no real remedy. He said the court could, in evaluating the evidence, take this into account in her favour.
The couple are standing trial along with Sandile Zweni, Nduduzo Dlamini and Bhabha Dubazane, charged with more than 150 counts relating to an alleged brothel operating from the Inntown Holiday Lodge in Durban’s Point area. The doctor is the director of a company which owns the 32-room lodge.
They have all pleaded not guilty.
In a statement submitted to the court, Rugnath said he knew nothing about the brothel, claiming he had left the running of the lodge to manager Veena Budhram and rarely went there.
However, Shinga, who was the receptionist, alleged he did know and had asked her once, “Where have the girls gone?” when she told him business was quiet.
Under cross-examination on Monday, she said “Sandile’s girls” would leave the lodge when the doctor was about to visit.
She said she would receive a call from the manageress at the doctor’s other hotel instructing her to “clean” the hotel.
They would leave the hotel and stand on the corner of the road next to a neighbouring business.
The next witnesses are believed to be some of the prostitutes, and then the State will call Budhram, who was once also facing criminal charges, but has turned State witness.
The matter has been set down for the whole month and dates have been reserved in December and early next year.