Pretoria - More than 11 years after he was arrested on fraud and theft charges and following a long and difficult road to prove his innocence, former investigating director of the then Scorpions, Malala Geophrey (Geoph) Ledwaba, has eventually been vindicated.
Ledwaba, a former advocate, was in October 2006 arrested alongside Ayanda Dlodlo, now Minister of Home Affairs. She was at the time a special director in the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO).
The charges followed allegations that Ledwaba was involved in fraud and theft of money from the Scorpions’s confidential fund, earmarked to pay for special operations and for informants.
The theft charge in this regard brought against Dlodlo was at the time withdrawn, but Ledwaba had to face 15 charges in the Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria.
He was in 2014 convicted on two fraud and three theft charges. He was the following year sentenced to an effective 10 year jail term.
Ledwaba was adamant from the start that the charges were trumped-up and vowed to prove his innocence.
His first attempt to appeal his convictions and sentence failed, as leave to appeal was refused. He petitioned for leave to appeal, which was granted.
Ledwaba remained out of jail pending the outcome of his appeal.
Two Johannesburg judges, sitting in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, have now eventually upheld his appeal.
But it was a struggle for Ledwaba, whose name was struck from the role of advocates a few months after his conviction in 2014.
“I asked the General Council of the Bar to hold off with this until the outcome of the appeal, as I was confident that I would be vindicated, but they refused to hold-off.”
Judge Zeenat Carelse, who wrote the judgment in which the appeal was upheld, found that Ledwaba never had a fair trial.
She in this regard had some scathing words for the officers of the State who prosecuted him at the time.
Judge Carelse said the State had provided no reasonable explanation for its failure to call relevant witnesses during his criminal trial.
“There is a constitutional duty on the State to place the truth before the court, whether it is in their favour or not. There is a basic duty on the State to produce its evidence in a truthful, unbiased manner...On consideration of the State’s failure to present relevant evidence to the court, or to call relevant witnesses, the fairness of the trial must be called into question. This failure resulted in an unfair trial,” she said.
To make matters worse, the State subjected Ledwaba to a lengthy trial resulting in a jail sentence, but on appeal the State for the first time conceded that it had failed to prove the charge of fraud and theft, involving R45 000 in which it was claimed Ledwaba “stole” from the special operations’ fund.
In another fraud charge against him on which he was convicted, which involved R150 000 from the special operations fund, one of the main witnesses against Ledwaba was former controversial Specialised commercial crime unit head Lawrence Mrwebi.
Mrwebi was also earlier struck from the roll of advocates, together with former NPA head Nomgcobo Jiba, after they were found to have lied to the court (in other matters) and fit to serve the advocate’s profession.
Regarding Mrwebi’s evidence during Ledwaba’s trial, Judge Carelse said it was filled with contradictions and inconsistencies.
“It was premised on an attack of the character of the appellant (Ledwaba),” Judge Carelse said.
The judge noted that during cross examination, Mrwebi was questioned that he, even during the trial of later Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, claimed that Ledwaba stole from the NPA.
The judge said Mrwebi conceded that he had lied about certain aspects.
She remarked that the impression gained from the evidence is that the State’s case was based on mere suspicion and that Ledwaba was required to prove his innocence, rather than the state proving his guilt.
Ledwaba, before he resigned from the Scorpions in 2006, reported directly to the then head of the NDPP, advocate Leonard McCarthy.
The two did not see eye to eye and Ledwaba said he believed McCarthy was behind the charges against him.
“I am happy that I have been vindicated, but I hate it that people use State institutions to persecute some.”
He said he will consider his options before deciding on the way forward.