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Durban - Umhlanga doctor Genchen Rugnath says he knows nothing about a brothel operating from the 32-bedroomed Point lodge he owns, claiming he left the running of it to a manager and rarely went there because it was in a “dangerous area”.
But, while he protested his innocence, in a statement handed to the court on Tuesday in his racketeering and trafficking trial, the receptionist of the Inntown Holiday Lodge claimed he had once asked her, “Where have the girls gone?” when she told him business was quiet.
Soon after, State witness Yvonne Dudu Shinga told Durban Regional Court magistrate Simphiwe Hlophe, the rate charged to “the girls” to take men into the rooms dropped from R100 to R20.
Rugnath, his wife, Ravina, Sandile Zweni, Nduduzo Dlamini and Bhabha Dubazani have all pleaded not guilty to 156 charges they collectively face relating to the alleged running of the brothel at the lodge, owned by Valor-Trade, of which the doctor is a director.
Apart from Shinga, one of the witnesses in the case is expected to be the manager, Veena Budhram, who was once also facing charges, but has subsequently turned State witness.
Rugnath puts the blame for any illicit activity at the Rutherford Street lodge at the door of Budhram whom, he says, had “actual and effective control” of all the bookings, handling the money and hiring and firing staff.
He claimed he had only made occasional visits to the Downtown Lodge and even rarer visits to Inntown because “Veena had instilled fear in me that it was dangerous to do so”.
His visits became less frequent after he had been hijacked in July 2004 and robbed of the cash he had taken from the lodge and, from then on, Veena took over all the banking.
Shinga said she had first been employed by “Mrs Rugnath” at Downtown Inn as a cleaner and then transferred to Inntown as the receptionist.
She said Zweni had booked the rooms for “the girls”, while Dlamini and Dubazani had “guarded them”.
She said sometimes Zweni would book between nine and 11 rooms at a time, and sometimes for up to a week at a time.
He would pay for the rooms, but “the girls”, whom she later called “prostitutes”, would have to pay R100 for each man they took into the rooms. This was paid to the receptionist and receipts were issued.
She said one night “Dr Rugnath” called, asking how many bookings there were for that night. She told him that it was quiet. He then asked where the “girls” were.
“I said they were not there. They were booking somewhere else. He asked me to find out where. The next day I told him they were booking at the shelter where they only had to pay R20.”
She said this had happened before the R100 fee at Inntown had dropped to R20 although she could not say how soon before. The trial continues today.