Members of the ECG Church led by fraud and money laundering accused Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Prophetess Mary, show support by singing and praying outside the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria -  The Department of Justice on Monday sought to deny the blockage of journalists who wanted to cover the first appearance of Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) leader Shepherd Bushiri at the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court.

"The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development would like to categorically state that it is untrue that media was refused access to the courtroom during the court appearance of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his co-accused at the Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria today, Monday 4 February 2019," said spokesperson Steve Mahlangu.

"Access to courtrooms is ordinarily given on first come, first served basis depending on availability of space. Our observation is that members of the media were waiting outside the courtroom to capture the arrival of the accused and the courtroom was already filled to its maximum capacity by the time they wanted to go inside."

Frustrated journalists ran from one entrance to the other, outside court on Monday as Bushiri and his wife Mary appeared on charges including fraud and money laundering.

“No media inside. We are not going to allow you to go in,” the South African Police Service (SAPS) officers blocking the entrances kept saying as journalists pleaded for access. 

Some ECG officials were allowed to pass through the media scrum and enter the court.

Moments later, it emerged that Bushiri and his wife had appeared in court, and their case had been postponed to Wednesday.

Photographers chased after a white unmarked police Golf GTI were Mary Bushiri was seated at the backseat, and Shepherd Bushiri was in the back seat of a Toyota Hilux, following behind the GTI. The escorted cars sped away, along Visagie Street soon after the court session ended.

The Bushiris were arrested by the elite Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (better known as Hawks) unit of the SAPS at their plush Sparkling Waters Resort in Rustenburg in the North West on Friday.

After the arrest, the church released a statement saying: "They took the prophet and our mother prophetess Mary Bushiri in handcuffs to Pretoria. They have charged our father with fraud and money laundering. As you will remember, from last year, we have struggled with reports that our father was guilty.

"We have repeatedly learnt from different media houses that we were under investigation. At some point accurate reports pointed out the fact that certain people within the police had demanded bribes amounting up to R10 million." 

Speaking of an arrest about a couple, Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said at the time: "The Hawks’ case against the pair concerns alleged offences of fraud, money laundering, and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) committed from 2015 in relation to Exchange Control Regulations related to foreign currency in an amount of 1 147 200 USD."

A multitude of ECG members was protesting outside the court.

African News Agency (ANA)