Cape Town - As a layperson, Martin Welz, the editor of investigative magazine Noseweek, enjoyed the indulgence of Cape high court deputy judge president Jeanette Traverso yesterday.

He needed it. He had to represent himself in an application brought by FirstRand against him and Chaucer Publications - the publisher of Noseweek - to interdict them from selectively publishing names of clients who had offshore trusts through its former private bank Ansbacher.

Welz had to represent himself as his attorneys had to withdraw. They had served on a FirstRand panel and had signed an agreement that they would not act for clients who were involved in litigation with the bank.

So Welz needed leeway. In fact, the judge said it was her duty. After all, he was up against Nic Maritz and Ben Swart, two senior advocates the bank flew from Johannesburg to move the application.

Welz is no stranger to controversy. While employed at the Sunday Times in the late 1970s, he reported a scam by a Lebanese businessman, Mohammed el Hajj, in the old Transkei. El Hajj brought the biggest defamation claim against the newspaper, R180 million, but left the country before the case went to court.

Welz exposed Adrian Niewoudt and his rotten milk culture pyramid scheme, the largest scam of its kind in South African history.

He tracked the scheme to the US, where it was exposed as the biggest postal fraud in US history.

Welz was then appointed a consultant by the US justice system and helped expose Frans "Vloog" Theron as the mastermind behind the scheme in that country.

Before that, Welz was one of the reporters who worked on the government Info scandal in the 1970s. He exposed the wrongdoing of Nationalist cabinet ministers Fanie Botha and Pietie du Plessis.

Du Plessis subsequently served a prison sentence.

Welz launched Noseweek with a bang in March 1993. The first edition, containing a spoof of magazine publisher Jane Raphaely in the nude, sold 900 copies.

Despite Noseweek's satirical and investigative bent, the magazine has received only two summonses. One ended up in court, when millionaire dentist and prominent right-winger Robert Hall sued the magazine for defamation. Hall won the trial, which lasted seven weeks. The case broke the magazine, which could only republish a year later after receiving donations from readers. Noseweek now has an average circulation of 20 000 copies.

Welz, who is 61 but says he acts "like 16'', did not disappoint in court yesterday. He repeated his allegations of illegality and criminal conduct, and Traverso had to quieten him down when he muttered loudly or jumped up to object to something Maritz said.

At stake is the reputation of FirstRand. Noseweek claimed in its June edition that the bank, through Ansbacher, had constructed schemes for clients who had offshore trusts, including the so-called loop structure, to evade tax. FirstRand denies this.

Traverso said she would give a ruling this morning.