Pretoria - Acting Mpumalanga director of public prosecutions Matric Luphondo and his co-accused, Kebone Masange, the head of the province’s department of human settlements, yesterday pleaded not guilty to 10 charges of bribing a prosecutor to drop a case of fraud and contraventions of the Immigration Act against Masange.
It is claimed that the pair, among others, offered the State prosecutor due to handle the prosecution against Masange large amounts of cash and a bottle of 18-year-old Glenfiddich whisky. The money and the whiskey were allegedly handed over to prosecutor Andrew Mphaga during an undercover operation.
Colonel Ayanda Plaatjie, a provincial head of the Hawks – the investigating officer in the criminal trial against Masange at the time – was also an accused in the corruption trial before the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
He has since died.
It is claimed that Plaatjie negotiated on behalf of Masange for the charges to be dropped, in return for cash.
The trial kicked off yesterday in the high court, and is being handled by legal heavyweights, with well known advocate Barry Roux being called in by the National Director of Public prosecutions, to lead the prosecution.
This is because Luphondo himself is a heavyweight within the NPA. The two accused are also being defended by well known seasoned senior advocates Lawrence Hodes and Danie Dorfling.
Luphondo is fighting tooth and nail for any evidence to be accepted by the court regarding the so-called entrapment operation, during which Mphaga pretended that he went along with the idea to receive money in return for dropping the charges against Masange.
Dorfling, acting for Luphondo, told Judge Anthony Millar that the entrapment operation was conducted illegally. Thus, any evidence on what happened during the operation, was not permissable. He argued that the authorisation for the entrapment operation was not in accordance with the law and evidence gathered was thus not legally obtained.
Mphaga testified that he was told by the NPA in 2020 to prosecute the case against Masange. The matter was postponed several times and the original investigator was taken off the case, as Plaatjie decided he would take over.
Mphaga, who is under the witness protection programme, testified that in March 2021, Plaatjie insisted on handing over the case docket to him in person. He also wanted to talk to him about the case. Mphaga said Plaatjie refused to come to his office and insisted on meeting him in his car.
Mphaga said Plaatjie told him the docket was “worth a lot of money”, but he assumed it was because if found guilty, Masange stood to lose his job.
“He then told me Masange said if there was a way he could get out of this, he was prepared to do anything. I got the impression he was conveying a message from Masange to me and that I
was offered a bribe to withdraw the case.” Mphaga said he was astounded and speechless to hear this from a head of the Hawks. “He told me that some people in the ANC are getting a lot of money and we are getting nothing. He said Masange is pleading with us to help as he is prepared to pay money.”
Mphaga reported the conversation to his supervisor, who called the police. It was decided that Mphaga would serve as an agent in an entrapment operation, the court was told.