The criminal trial of Tigon kingpins Gary Porritt and Sue Bennett resumed on Tuesday and immediately moved up a gear, thanks to new measures announced by presiding judge Brian Spilg.
Porritt and Bennett are standing trial on more than 3 000 charges of fraud, racketeering, and contraventions of the Income Tax Act, Companies Act and Stock Exchange Control Act relating to the collapse of JSE-listed Tigon more than 15 years ago.
The trial started last year after numerous delays caused by applications and appeals by the accused, who are both without legal representation. Progress was extremely slow as Porritt made hand-written notes of proceedings.
No evidence has been led this year as the court embarked on an enquiry into Bennett’s health and fitness to stand trial after she failed to appear in court several times early this year.
Spilg stayed the enquiry after Bennett and the state reached agreement that the trial can continue with provision for rest days in-between.
Early on Tuesday morning he announced that he made arrangements with the judge president for the accused to get a CD recording of every day’s proceedings at the end of the day. That would free Porritt from writing down every detail of the proceedings and speed up the trial. The recording is available at no cost to the accused, but they have to make arrangements to get it at the end of each court day.
Porritt was not impressed. He jumped up and loudly objected that Bennett would have to listen to the recordings during the court break, arguing that she needed to rest.
Spilg asked: “Are you shouting at me, Mr Porritt?”, and when Porritt denied it: “I believe you are.”
Porritt persisted by saying Bennett’s rest was required on the basis of medical advice. Spilg then asked if Porritt wanted him to reopen the medical enquiry and he responded that he does.
Spilg then ruled, saying: “Mr Porritt, if you don’t like it, you have your remedies. We will proceed without delays like before.” Spilg said he would slow down proceedings at times if necessary.
The proceedings continued with the handing up of documents relating to first witness Jack Milne’s earlier testimony about events that transpired between May 2001 and May 2002.
Advocate Etienne Coetzee for the state requested that the accused come to court an hour early at 9:00 to inspect the documents that will be handed up as the trial proceeds. Porritt again objected, saying: “I want to place it on record that what happened before is what killed Mrs Bennett’s health.”
Spilg remarked that he might need to reopen the medical enquiry at some stage. He repeatedly cautioned Porritt against speaking on behalf of Bennett, saying she could speak for herself. She seemed engaged in the proceedings and addressed Spilg on different issues several times during the day.
Some of the documents handed up pertained to a Progressive Systems College Guaranteed Growth (PSCGG) shareholders’ meeting on April 26, 2002, where a decision was taken to drastically increase the number of shares issued. Milne, who was managing director of PSCGG at the time, explained that the majority of the voting power at the meeting resided with a small number of ‘A’ ordinary shareholders, including himself, his children’s trusts and perhaps Bennett.
PSCGG was underwritten by Tigon, and Milne has previously served a jail term in connection with his role in the scheme. He is now testifying against his former colleagues, Porritt and Bennett.
His testimony pertains to more than 800 documents.
The state also admitted graphs that showed the average performance of South African unit trusts in the first half of 2001 against which PSCGG benchmarked itself, as well as the share price movement of Tigon subsidiary Shawcell and Tigon itself.
Milne testified that the Tigon share price dropped sharply from 600c to 405c towards the end of the period. He said the graphs were sent to Porritt and he believes the drop in the Tigon share price prompted him to do a share swop between Tigon and Shawcell in an effort to prop the net asset value (NAV) of PSCGG up to the published level. PSCGG was invested in the Tigon group. The share swop was backdated, he testified.
According to Milne the Tigon graph was accurate up to March 13, 2002, when the Tigon share started falling. “From that date we began to fabricate the actual NAVs. I did the actual fabrication”, Milne testified, adding that it was with the full knowledge of Porritt and Bennett.
Milne further testified that Porritt prepared a detailed record of his purchases of Tigon and Shawcell shares from Pietermaritzburg and this spreadsheet, a copy of which was handed up, was sent to PSCGG at the end of the day. There it was used “to produce the PSCGG NAV”.
Porritt objected, saying there were schedules sent, but he is not sure whether these were the same ones.
Spilg told him that many years have gone by and the accused had many opportunities to produce documents. “I have given Mr Porritt and Mrs Bennett ample opportunity to deal with the admissibility of documents. We cannot still be debating this. I am admitting it. The probative value and reliability is self-evident at this stage,” Spilg said.
He emphasised that by admitting the documents he does not rule on the weight of the evidence it presents and that the accused can cross-examine the witness on it.
The trial will continue on Wednesday.
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