SUPPORTERS of Shepherd and Mary Bushiri show affection for the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church leaders outside the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court yesterday. Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
THE SAPS elite Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, has rubbished claims of a plot to discredit popular charismatic preacher Shepherd Bushiri, who is in police custody.

Bushiri and his wife Mary were arrested on Friday at their plush Sparkling Waters Resort in Rustenburg in the North West for crimes including fraud and money-laundering.

“These matters go back to 2015. It’s an investigation. This is not a personal attack to the prophet. Issues were raised with us and as a law enforcement agency, we have a responsibility to investigate these cases,” Hawks national spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said at the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court.

Mulaudzi said Bushiri’s tribulations centred on infringement of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. “We are making allegations that monies were used illegally during the transactions of some of the assets that Mr and Mrs Bushiri have,” he said.

The Bushiris briefly appeared in court, and they were remanded in custody until tomorrow.

“It [the postponement] was an agreement between the State and the defence. A formal bail application will then be heard. As we speak, the couple are still incarcerated until such time,” said Mulaudzi.

“We are looking at issues of money laundering and fraud. We only today got their passports we had requested from the defence. A verification process still needs to be done.”

Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church said on Friday: “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 R10million.”

At the time, Mulaudzi said: “The Hawks’ case against the pair concerns alleged offences of fraud, money-laundering and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act committed from 2015 in relation to Exchange Control Regulations related to foreign currency in an amount of $1147200.”

The marked vehicle of the Hawks, used to arrest Bushiri and his wife, was mobbed by ECG members, with some spraying it with “anointing oil to cleanse it”.

A crowd of lively ECG members was protesting outside the court. Visagie Street was blocked off to traffic, with police blocking court entrances.

Unfazed by the massive police presence, the ECG faithful sent a message to law enforcement officials regarding the Hawks Golf GTI parked near the court entrance. “We command fire! Major One is innocent. Release him. Holy Ghost fire. Fire!” the animated crowd chanted.

Moments later, some took out small bottles of “anointing oil”, believed by many to have special supernatural powers, and started spraying the police car. Police officers intervened and started pushing back the lively crowd.

Emotions ran high outside the court, as police officers blocked journalists from entering the court premises. Frustrated journalists ran from one entrance to the other 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 officers kept saying as journalists pleaded for access. Several police officers were posted on the court entrances, and along Visagie Street.

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

Moments later, it emerged that Bushiri and his wife's case had been postponed.

Photographers chased after an unmarked police Golf GTi with Mary in the back seat, and Bushiri was in the back seat of a Toyota Hilux, following the GTI. The escorted cars sped off soon after the court session ended.

The Department of Justice late yesterday sought to deny the blockage of journalists wanting to cover Bushiri's first appearance. “The department categorically states that it is untrue that media was refused access to the courtroom,” said spokesperson Steve Mahlangu.

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