Durban - Corks were popped on bottles of expensive champagne and the bubbly was sprayed about outside court on Wednesday to celebrate the withdrawal of fraud charges against Durban multimillionaire Shauwn Mpisane. She was due to stand trial in six days.
But she is not off the hook yet. And she still faces separate trials on charges of tax fraud and of defeating the ends of justice.
Mpisane was drenched in Moët Chandon and Veuve Clicquot by her supporters, mostly employees, as she emerged from the Commercial Crime Court in the Durban CBD.
The jubilant scenes came after senior state advocate Wendy O’ Brien withdrew 50 charges relating to fraud, uttering and forgery against Mpisane and her company, Zikhulise Cleaning, Maintenance and Transport.
The charges included submission of false documentation to the Construction Industry Development Board to boost gradings, resulting in her fraudulently landing government work valued at R70 million.
O’Brien gave no reason for the decision.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson-Kara referred to the decision as a “complete withdrawal”, but later said that it would be up to O’Brien to decide whether to reinstate it.
The Mercury understands that unless there is a permanent stay of prosecution, charges that are withdrawn can be reinstated.
Speaking on behalf of himself and his wife, Mpisane’s husband, S’bu, who responded to e-mailed questions, was non-committal on whether he believed the matter was over.
Asked whether they would consider applying for a permanent stay of prosecution should the charges be reinstated, he said it was in the hands of their legal team.
Two sources, one in the NPA and other with the police, said their understanding was that charges would be reinstated as soon as the State got its house in order.
The withdrawal came after the State had been given a deadline of noon on Wednesday to provide certain information, including a forensic report relied on by the prosecution, to the defence.
Ramkisson-Kara said the State decided to withdraw as it realised that the deadline could not be met because the forensic report had not been completed.
S’bu Mpisane said they were “happy but shocked”. “We have been pleading our innocence all the time, but allowed justice to take its course,” he said.
He also said the return of their assets was of “high interest”, but that would be left to their legal team.
Outside court, Mpisane’s attorney, Shaukat Karim, confirmed that he would contact curator Trevor White, who is in control of the assets, to secure the release of R70m worth of restrained assets.
Karim said the assets, which were restrained by the Asset Forfeiture Unit as a consequence of the prosecution, should be “automatically released” but that he would approach the high court if there were problems.
White confirmed that he had been contacted about the release of the assets. However, the assets were restrained by a high court order and would remain under restraint until that order was varied or rescinded. Ramkisson-Kara could not say whether the State would oppose an application brought to release the assets.
Meanwhile, Mpisane is awaiting a decision by the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Mxolisi Nxasana, on whether her tax fraud trial should proceed. The State’s case ran into trouble last year when prosecutor Meera Naidu was removed after the defence alleged that she had suppressed evidence and they questioned her ethics. Mpisane made extensive representations to Nxasana to ask for the charges to be dropped. If the tax case is dropped, then charges of corruption and defeating the ends of justice in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court – which are related to allegations that Mpisane had persuaded a State witness to alter evidence in the tax fraud case – are also likely to fall away.
Mpisane said that both cases remained “a mystery to us”, had been dragging on and had emerged as “shaky”.
Asked if they might consider suing the State for malicious prosecution, he said: “We have no intention of doing a mirror image of what the justice system has done to us. We intend to move on with our lives.” The Mercury