Business / Business News

Antoinette Slabbert
4 minute read
24 Oct 2017
7:28 am

‘Impossible’ to consult Porritt through bars, says Bennett

Antoinette Slabbert

Tigon’s Porritt, Bennett object to admitting documents.

Frustrated Tigon accused Sue Bennett and Gary Porritt on Monday objected to documents submitted by the state in an effort to prove their guilt on more than 3 000 charges including fraud, racketeering and the contravention of financial legislation.

The charges stem from the collapse around 2000 of JSE-listed financial services company Tigon, of which Porritt was the CEO and Bennett a director.

The pair were arrested in 2002 and 2003 respectively but managed to delay the start of the trial for 14 years through all kinds of applications and appeals. When the trial eventually got underway more than a year ago, it proceeded at a snail’s pace with the court trying to accommodate the unrepresented accused.

In June, Porritt was arrested due to his failure to attend court and has been in jail since.

Bennett, who also has contempt proceedings hanging over her head due to her earlier absence from court, on Monday objected to some documents being admitted into evidence during the testimony of Jack Milne, the state’s first witness.

Milne was the managing director of Progressive Systems College Guaranteed Growth (PSCGG), an investment fund underwritten by Tigon. He earlier testified that he conspired with Porritt and Bennett to falsify the net asset value of PSCGG to mislead investors. Milne earlier served a term in jail for his part in the saga.

Bennett based her objection on her belief that Judge Brian Spilg should recuse himself. She has argued before that Spilg is biased against her and Porritt as he made adverse credibility findings against them. Spilg denied this and rejected her argument.

In response to her objection on Monday, he asked her where her formal application was for his recusal. She said she was unable to bring the application, because it was “impossible” to consult Porritt due to him being in jail.

She said it was noisy and there were constant interruptions whenever she tried to discuss the case with him where he was being held in the Johannesburg Central prison. She said while there was a “little room” where they could sometimes sit, it was sometimes unavailable and they had to “consult through bars”.

Spilg pointed out to her that many other legal representatives consult their clients at the very same prison, to which she responded that theirs was an exceptionally complex case.

Porritt objected to the documents being accepted into evidence because he hasn’t been able to discuss them with his legal representative. He argued that although he is currently unrepresented, he will have representation as soon as R15 million becomes available from another case he is involved in. He said it would have been available already but for Spilg’s conduct that resulted in that case being delayed.

Spilg asked for details of the case. According to Porritt, the parties are the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and Surrey Development Trust of which he and Bennett are trustees and Synergy Management (Pty) Ltd. The R15 million was to be paid to the Lemax trust as was determined years ago, but Sars “has been trying to intercede for 15 years”, he said.

Investigating officer Sandra van Wyk, recently alleged in an affidavit before another court that Porritt has direct or indirect access to assets worth at least R100 million through a complex network of trusts. He claims he is penniless and has failed to respond to her affidavit.

Spilg on Monday asked Porritt about the availability of funds for legal representation from the Pembrook Trust of which Attorney Frank Cohen is a trustee, but he said he isn’t a beneficiary of the trust. His children are.

Monday was not the first time Porritt argued that funds from the Sars case would buy him representation. In September last year, when the trial started, Porritt applied for a postponement saying he would have had the funds for representation by March.

Spilg however at the time rejected the application. The case proceeded and Porritt did not get the money in March.

Spilg on Monday dismissed Porritt’s objection to the documents.

Porritt was clearly frustrated during the proceedings when he apparently struggled to keep up with taking notes. He raised his voice in objection and was reprimanded by Spilg for speaking over him.

Spilg pointed out that recordings of the proceedings as well as transcripts were available to Porritt and Bennett.

Porritt denied getting the court record. He further indicated that BDK Attorneys no longer represented him in relation to his health matters. He said he had “no issues” with BDK’s attorney JP Venter, but failed to give a clear explanation of the reason for the termination of his relationship with BDK.

Spilg said BDK’s attorney, JP Venter, was directed by the court to assist Porritt as a friend of the court in communicating to relevant parties. He said he would write to Venter about the matter and copy Porritt in the communication.

The trial will continue on Tuesday.

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