Durban - Flamboyant Durban businesswoman Shauwn Mpisane was acquitted of all charges against her on Friday.
She overcame her biggest legal hurdle when the 119 fraud charges she was facing were dropped by the Durban Regional Court.
She is known for an array of colourful dresses and shoes, accompanied by a different hairstyle at each of her court appearances during the past three years.
Mpisane and her company, Zikhulise Cleaning Maintenance and Transport CC had been accused of inflating suppliers' invoices by R4.7 million in an attempt to cut the tax bill. She was also accused of violating the Close Corporations Act by remaining Zikhulise's sole member when she had a previous fraud conviction.
However, the trial came to an end when prosecutor Arno Rossouw told the court that a decision had been taken by National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Mxolisi Nxasana to stop the prosecution.
“I have received the authority from the National Director of Public Prosecutions to stop the prosecution in terms of Section 6(b) of the Criminal Procedures Act,” he said.
When a prosecution is stopped in terms of this section of the act, the court is obliged to acquit the accused, which magistrate Blessing Msani did. When Rossouw told Msani that the charges would be withdrawn there was applause from Mpisane's supporters who had packed the court, along with a large number of journalists.
Msani said the trial had been one of the most gruelling that he had had to preside over.
“Both accused are acquitted in respect of all the charges against them.”
A few hours later a charge of interfering with a witness was withdrawn against Mpisane in the Pinetown Magistrate's Court. Mpisane had allegedly tried to interfere with one of the witnesses in relation to the fraud trial in the Durban Regional Court.
Earlier this month, Mpisane and her supporters popped champagne corks outside the Durban Commercial Crime Court following a decision by the prosecution to withdraw 53 charges of fraud, forgery, and uttering of a forged document. She had been accused of submitting forged documents to obtain Construction Industry Development Board gradings which were then used to win five public works department tenders worth R140m.
The NDPP still had to make a decision on whether these charges would be reinstated.
Speaking outside the court, Mpisane said she and her husband were delighted. She complimented Nxasana for “taking the right decision” and praised her legal team.
“One cannot say that it will end. There has been a misuse of power. The prosecutor suppressed the evidence. She (made) a mockery of the justice system.”
An elegantly dressed Mpisane, who was flanked by her husband, said R4.7m was trivial when she had paid tax of more than R157m.
“We should not have been dragged here. We just want peace and (we) want closure. I am not a politician and I am not a public figure.”
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Nathi Ncube said the NPA had a strong case but believed the allegations that prosecutor Meera Naidu had suppressed evidence would have rendered the trial unfair.
Asked about the allegations Ncube said: “We view the allegations very seriously. We cannot provide any more information as it is an internal matter and the prosecutor has not been given a chance to explain.”
In September, Naidu was dropped from the cases in the Durban Regional Court and Pinetown.
At the time NPA spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson said Naidu was issued a notice of intention to suspend her, and that she had been given an opportunity to explain why she should not be suspended. Ramkisson said a decision still had to be taken on whether to suspend her. She said Naidu had been accused of “impropriety”.
In July Rafik Bhana, for Mpisane, accused Naidu of only providing a third of the documentation in the State's possession and thereby prejudicing his client's case. The NDPP's decision to stop the prosecution on Friday followed representations made about Naidu's conduct.
While the State could not prosecute Mpisane on the tax matters again it could still reinstate the 53 charges of fraud, forgery, and uttering in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court.
Ncube said while the NDPP had asked for information on the case, the decision on whether to reinstate the 53 charges still rested with the prosecutors handling the case in Durban.
Although those 53 charges had been withdrawn, Mpisane would have to make a separate application to the high court to lift the restraint order against R70.5m of her assets.
The State initially obtained a restraint order against assets worth R140m, but this was subsequently reduced once it emerged that no payment had been received for one of the contracts.
On Friday, curator Trevor White said he was not aware of any application to lift the restraint order.