Covid-19 halts extradition of UK-based suspect in R745m Eskom corruption case
The staggering R745 million Eskom fraud-and-corruption case is being delayed by a UK-based accused, whom the State is struggling to extradite amid the coronavirus outbreak.
On Monday at the Joburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court, sitting in Palm Ridge, prosecutor Mbulelo Hermanus revealed that although South African authorities had been working closely with their UK counterparts to extradite the accused, the global Covid-19 pandemic had stymied the arrest of the alleged fraudster.
The accused, whose name cannot be revealed before he appears in court, faces charges related to an alleged 2015 fraudulent R745m contract for the installation of two air-cooled condenser units at Eskom’s Kusile power station in Mpumalanga.
The other four accused are former Eskom senior managers Mangope Hlakudi and Abram Masango, as well as businesspersons Antonio Trindade and Maphoko Kgomoeswana.
They were arrested and made their first court appearances in December after the Hawks nabbed them, following a year-long, high-level probe.
Trindade’s Tubular Construction received the 2015 contract after alleged fraudulent and influential legal advice was submitted to Eskom by Hlakudi and Masango, both of whom supposedly pocketed bribes totalling R30m from Tubular.
Hermanus told the court that UK authorities needed satisfaction of certain requirements for extradition of the remaining accused to be affected, including the state of South Africa’s prisons, which Hermanus said the Department of Correctional Services was assisting with.
“(The accused) currently resides in the UK and the State is currently in the process of extraditing him. We are engaged with the relevant departments.
“I can safely assure this court that we are at an advanced stage with this (extradition) issue,” Hermanus contended.
He asked for an extension to October for the extradition process to be sorted, but asserted that should it not be resolved, the State had enough evidence to proceed with the prosecution of the four alleged fraudsters in the absence of their UK-based co-accused.
However, Trindade’s legal representative Max Hodes charged that the State was delaying and that the initial December postponement was for “further investigation” and not extradition purposes, which was allegedly sprung as a surprise on the defence.
Hodes said extradition processes lasted “for years”, and asked for the matter to be removed from the roll until the finalisation of the process.
“It will be unfair to keep these accused before this honourable court for years,” Hodes stressed, adding that the delays were “prejudicial” and “unfair”.
His views were echoed by Masango’s lawyer Kenny Oldwage, who said he understood that this was a “high-profile case stemming from the State Capture (Commission) hearings”, but that a delay to proceedings “would undermine my client’s constitutional right to a fair trial”.
But magistrate Phillip Venter granted the extension, saying the delays were “justified” based on the “uncharted waters with Covid-19; not as a country but the entire world”.
All accused indicated that they would plead not guilty to all charges. They return to court in October.