High-profile illicit diamond dealing case could be revived

An alleged illegal diamond trading syndicate could again face court as the State approaches the Supreme Court of Appeal to restart the trial.

Almost two years after one of the country’s most high-profile illicit diamond dealing scandals in recent history faded from the headlines, the case is due back before court next month.

This as the state prepares to take its fight for a new trial to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

In September 2018, the Northern Cape High Court ordered a permanent stay of prosecution against Ashley Brooks, Patrick Mason, Monojkumar Detroja, Karel van Graaf, Sarel van Graaf, Trevor Pikwane, Kevin Urry, Jan Weenink, McDonald Visser, Antonella Florio-Poone, Ahmed Khorani, Komilan Packrisamy and Frank Perridge.

They were arrested in late 2014 following a covert, year-long operation that culminated with the authorities descending on what they said was an illegal diamond trading syndicate.

But four years later, their trial was still not near completion. And when the judge who had been presiding over the case up until that point recused herself, it prompted the defence to launch an application for a permanent stay of prosecution.

Two years earlier, the judge had reported to the office of the chief justice having received what she considered a threat and said she felt her life and her children’s lives were in danger.

She recused herself on the basis that she could be perceived to be biased, after the authorities announced that they had completed an investigation but decided not to prosecute anyone.

In granting the application for a permanent stay of prosecution, which was opposed, Judge Johann Daffue ripped into the state and tore its case to shreds.

“The recusal of a judge or other presiding officer is not a free pass for a successful application for stay of prosecution, even in the event of a long criminal trial,” he said, “But this application cannot be adjudicated on that basis only”.

He described parts of the state’s case as “a novel, outrageous argument – bordering on fiction”.

And he said the police’s “high-handed and robust approach” was “sickening” and that “exorbitantly high” bails were set.

But most damning, according to the judge, was “the character and attitude of the state’s star witness” – the state agent at the heart of the “trap” with which the accused had been caught.

“On his own version, he personally contacted at least one of the accused and allowed people to negotiate with him not to testify for the state and even to splash his ‘story’ – of being forced by his handler to make false statements – in a local newspaper,” Daffue said, “His credibility is in tatters”.

The judge said the witness – who had not testified in court – would have been torn apart on the stand in any case. “It would be the end of the state’s case.”

He said in coming to his decision, he had weighed the societal demand that an accused should stand his trial against the prejudice the accused had already suffered and would suffer were a new trial to be held, “together with the apparent serious flaws in the state’s case”.

The National Prosecuting Authority applied to Daffue for leave to appeal but he dismissed the application.

So, now, it has approached the appellate court directly with a new application and the matter has been set down for hearing in early May.

The Deputy Judge President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Xola Mlungisi, is one of four judges who have been allocated to preside over the matter and ultimately determine whether or not the trial should start afresh.


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