Judge Brian Spilg on Monday dismissed an application to postpone the trial of Tigon accused Gary Porritt and Sue Bennett to attend to Porritt’s “health issues”.
Porritt, who is currently being detained, was brought to court from Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital where he claimed he was being treated for heart arrhythmia.
He is, together with co-accused Sue Bennett, on trial on more than 3 000 charges of theft, racketeering and contraventions of financial laws related to the collapse of listed financial services company Tigon around 2001.
Spilg called for a short adjournment on Monday for the investigating officer to contact the hospital and find out why Porritt was supposedly needed there instead of in court on Tuesday.
After the adjournment the state told the court that Porritt needed to have his blood drawn, but that could be done early in the morning, before his court appearance. Spilg then ordered that he be taken to the hospital around 7:00 and then brought to court.
He confirmed his earlier ruling that Porritt has to be in court unless he can provide compelling reasons not to be. Such reasons should be based on a medical certificate from a treating physician. He specifically stated in his order that only serious illness and not the convenience of the doctor, would be an acceptable reason for Porritt’s absence. Other investigation and treatment could be done on the days the court does not sit, Spilg ordered.
This follows after Porritt was arrested and his bail was revoked after he failed to appear in court in June, due to alleged illness. After hearing medical evidence and studying hundreds of related documents Spilg found Porritt had no good reason for his absence. He has since been detained in the Johannesburg Central Prison.
Earlier this month the court proceedings were also disrupted when Porritt claimed he had to be tested for tuberculosis. The tests showed he does not have the disease.
Porritt has brought a fresh bail application before Judge Mokgoatlheng and has also indicated that he will appeal Spilg’s decision to have his bail revoked. Mokgoatlheng directed that the appeal should be finalised before the bail application could be heard. The state on Monday said the accused indicated that they might challenge this directive.
Porritt and Bennett have further indicated that they will bring a substantive application for Spilg’s recusal based on actual bias against them.
Spilg on Monday appealed to the accused to reconsider their strategy that seems to be aimed at delaying the trial as long as possible through all kinds of applications and appeals.
He said the case was first placed on the court roll in 2006, when Porritt was 54 and Bennett 56. Spilg said Porritt could have had a final ruling at the age of 59, but for all the delays. Now he is 66 and Bennett 68 and the first witness has not even finished his testimony.
Spilg said the trial has commenced. He spelled out three options. The state might lose its will to fight, there can be some kind of settlement that will have to be confirmed by the court or the trial will proceed before him or if he is recused, it will start again before someone else.
He said Porritt and Bennett should think about how old they will be when the case is finalised. If they are found not guilty, they will have little time left to enjoy life and if found guilty, they will have to deal with that kind of anxiety at an advanced age, he said.
He pointed out that Bennett recently even refused to look at documents submitted to court. At the time she argued that it is of no use since the trial is unfair regardless.
Spilg said it is in nobody’s interest to bring application after application that does not get to what will eventually be resolved in the main trial. He appealed to the accused to take a long-term view.
The second half of the court day was spent hearing the testimony of Jack Milne, the state’s first witness. Milne is the former managing director of Progressive Systems College (PSC) that ran an investment fund that was underwritten by Tigon. He was earlier sentenced and served a jail term for the same events that are currently before the court.
The court received several documents from Milne. Porritt and Bennett will at a later stage get an opportunity to inspect the documents and the court will later determine the status of the documents. Bennett has indicated that she cooperate in this regard.
Spilg also ordered that Porritt’s legal representatives should have access to him during predetermined hours on weekdays and weekends whether he is detained in prison or in hospital.
He was not prepared to give Bennett the same access and told Porritt he is no different from any other awaiting trial prisoner and he is not entitled to any special treatment.
He said Porritt and Bennett will be given opportunities to discuss matters at court and ordered that Bennett be given access to the court room from 8:00 in the morning for that purpose.
The trial will continue on Tuesday.
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