Lawyer, sheriff, ex-boss in dock
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Durban - Allegations of cloak-and-dagger meetings, bribery and underhand actions emerged in the KwaDukuza Regional Court on Monday as an attorney, a successful businessman and a former public official found themselves in the dock, facing charges of corruption and defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
At the heart of the matter is Ballito man Robert McClelland, who is accused of paying a deputy sheriff to steal documents incriminating him in a multimillion-rand lawsuit.
McClelland allegedly had these stolen documents handed to a Richards Bay attorney and they then disappeared.
McClelland was involved in founding scrap metal and recycling company the New Reclamation Group. He resigned in February 2006 and subsequently opened Chicks Scrap Metal.
During his time at the New Reclamation Group he apparently signed a restraint of trade agreement, but in 2009 the group found that, in opening Chicks Scrap Metal, he had breached this agreement.
It proceeded with civil action to claim more than R50 million in damages, and in August 2010 secured an order to seize - without warning - documents and hard drives from McClelland.
These were taken to the Stanger sheriff’s office where they vanished.
The State alleges that McClelland arranged for deputy sheriff Oshwin Maharaj to steal the documents and hard drives. Under McClelland’s instruction - and in return for R50 000 - Maharaj allegedly handed these to a man named Nelson Pereira who gave them to Richards Bay attorney Brian Morkel to conceal or dispose of.
McClelland and Maharaj have been charged with corruption and, if found guilty, could face sentences of up to 15 years in prison.
Morkel has been charged with defeating or obstructing the course of justice. Originally, he was also charged with corruption, but these charges were withdrawn on Monday. Pereira has turned State witness.
All three accused pleaded not guilty on Monday.
In his plea, read out by defence advocate Terry Price, McClelland said the criminal case against him was being run from the offices of his former company.
“I left the New Reclamation Group to start my own business. It was very successful and this infuriated them,” he said. “They have done everything in their power, by hook or by crook (to seek revenge).”
He denied knowing Maharaj before charges were brought against the two of them.
The State’s first witness, a director of and legal adviser to the New Reclamation Group, Graham Wolf, said that Pereira had approached the group and told it what had transpired.
This was when the group first came to know that documents and hard drives had been stolen.
It was revealed that Pereira was a former employee of McClelland’s, that the two had been embroiled in a dispute and that the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration had been involved. Price asked if Pereira had been promised any form of compensation for the information divulged, but Wolf said he had not.
Wolf conceded that the charges brought against McClelland had been initiated by the New Reclamation Group and that the group had enlisted a private investigation company, but later commented that this was common practice.
Price asked if McClelland’s successful conviction would assist with the group’s civil claim against his client, but Wolf said it would not.
“It would not quantify damages,” he said.
“But it would certainly be a blight on his credibility,” said Price, and Wolf agreed.
The trial continues on Tuesday.