The R2.3-billion VBS Mutual Bank heist trial is expected to begin only in early 2022, as delays in additional charges and arrests prolong the saga.
The Mail & Guardian has also learned from three sources that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is expected to ask for 16 weeks to prosecute the seven remaining accused in the matter, as well as three others mooted to be arrested before March this year.
These revelations emerged on Tuesday on the sidelines of the appearance of seven former VBS executives and directors at the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court, sitting in the Palmridge magistrate’s court.
The seven accused are Tshifhiwa Matodzi, the former VBS chairperson; Andile Ramavhunga, the former chief executive; Phophi Mukhodobwane, the former treasurer; Sipho Malaba, who was an auditor at KPMG; Lieutenant-General Avhashoni Ramikosi, who was a non-executive director; as well as Ernest Nesane and Paul Magula, both of whom were representing the Public Investment Corporation as non-executive directors on the board.
A source, who asked to remain anonymous, said the NPA would likely begin the trial early next year, when all delays to the case had been sorted out.
“We had expected the trial to only run for eight weeks, but it seems the NPA will push for a 16 weeks-long trial. The trial is only likely to start in early 2022, because the state wants to add more charges and additional defendants to the matter.
“This matter is expected to be transferred to the high court in Pretoria at the next appearance [in March],” the source said.
Two other sources, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the alleged 2022 trial start date, as well as the expected 16-week duration.
On Tuesday in Palmridge, state advocate Hein van der Merwe asked for an eight-week postponement of the case for the prosecutors to finalise additional counts and make three more arrests, to add to the seven accused already facing charges.
The postponement application angered accused number six Ramikosi’s legal representative, Rudzani Netshiavha, who accused the state of ineptitude, saying the ongoing delays since the first arrests were made in June last year were financially prejudicial to his client.
But Van der Merwe said the postponement was necessary to obtain a racketeering certificate, in line with the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. This must be secured from the NPA head Shamila Batohi for more charges to be laid and three more accused to be arrested.
“We [the NPA] finalised the indictment at the end of November last year … Unfortunately, because of positive Covid-19 cases and people who formed part of the original panel [for the racketeering certificate application], she [Batohi] was unable to convene the panel to hear the application to have the additional charges added,” Van der Merwe told the court.
He added that the state would apply in March for the matter to be transferred to Pretoria.
In October, accused number three, Phillip Truter, VBS’s former chief financial officer, was sentenced to an effective seven years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to, among other charges, receiving millions of rands from the alleged bank heist and falsifying financial statements. Truter agreed to turn state witness.
Meanwhile, magistrate Phillip Venter noted Netshiavha’s objections, but granted the postponement application and set the matter to sit again on 26 March.
The remaining seven accused are accused of depleting the now-defunct mutual bank of almost R2.3-billion by allegedly falsifying VBS’s financial statements for the fiscal year ending March 2017, to show that the business was solvent when, in fact, it was not.
Matodzi, Ramavhunga, Truter and Mukhodobwane, according to the indictment, allegedly stole R262-million in 12 days during March 2017, “by creating fictitious credits” in 35 VBS accounts.
All the accused are out on R100 000 bail each and will return to court in March.