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Sunday, 14 June 2015

‘SWAZI EX-JUSTICE MINISTER TOOK BRIBE’

Sibusiso Shongwe took a bribe when he was still Swaziland’s Justice Minister and he tried to entice a High Court Judge and the Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi to also take bribes, a top Swazi judge and a senior judicial officer have testified under oath.

Their evidence was given at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) hearing into Chief Justice Ramodibedi’s alleged misuse of power

Evidence from suspended High Court Judge Mpendulo Simelane and High Court Registrar Fikile Nhlabatsi was presented to the JSC hearing on Tuesday (9 June 2015). Ramodibedi was charged with three counts of misuse of office. He did not appear at the hearing and his side of the story was not given. 

The case was concluded in his absence. King Mswati III, Swaziland’s absolute monarch, will decide what happens next.

The alleged bribery concerned a case involving Impunzi Wholesalers and the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA). The SRA demanded Impunzi paid about E10m (US$1 million) duty for goods imported from China. It said Impunzi has been declaring the goods at US$1.50 per item instead of US$14.50 thereby cheating the SRA of millions of Emalangeni. 

According to an account published in the Observer Sunday, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, ‘Suspended Judge Mpendulo Simelane has revealed how Shongwe summoned him to his home early in the morning, where he told him of wealthy businessmen operating Impunzi Wholesalers who were willing to pay out E2m [US$200,000] if they were helped to win the case against SRA.

‘Mpendulo said the ex-minster promised him a cut of E200,000 if he agreed to preside over the matter and that the chief justice would get a share of E500,000 while Shongwe would keep the remaining E1.3m.

‘The judge said he refused to be part of the scheme, citing religious convictions and legal ethics as his reasons.

‘“I told him that I do not accept bribes and that this borders on corruption. He further told me that he had discussed the matter with the Chief Justice and that he should allocate the case to me. I refused the offer and left his house and proceeded to work,” said Simelane in his affidavit submitted to the Judicial Service Commission.’

The newspaper added, ‘Moments later, Simelane was called by Ramodibedi who told him he had been allocated the Impunzi case but he claims to have politely turned the CJ down by citing a congested diary. The case was eventually allocated to Principal Judge Stanley Maphalala – something that did not go down well with the former minister, who feared that the judge would not give the ruling he desired.’

The newspaper reported Swazi High Court Registrar Nhlabatsi said she was summoned to Shongwe’s law firm offices at Eveni, where he found him with two Chinese nationals and they were talking about the Impunzi case.

The newspaper reported, ‘She said she was ordered to ask the judge to finalise the matter pronto but when the judge issued his ruling, it was in favour of SRA – as feared by Shongwe.

‘The matter then went to appeal and that is where the scales were swayed to favour Impunzi.

‘First, Simelane was illegally sworn in as acting judge of the Supreme Court so as to preside over the matter together with Ramodibedi and current acting CJ Bheki Maphalala.

‘The first hearing of the matter was postponed and when it returned, Simelane had been replaced with Judge Jacobus Annandale.

‘Ramodibedi, who the minister said stood to benefit E500 000 if Impunzi won, was now part of those to decide the matter.

‘Indeed, Impunzi won the case and it later emerged that E2 million had been deposited into a trust account of Shongwe’s law firm and he was the sole signatory of the account. The money was deposited into the trust account on December 17 and 19, 2014 in two separate amounts of E1 million cash. 

‘The dates show that the first deposit was made a day before the matter was due to be heard by the High Court, where Shongwe and Ramodibedi intended for Simelane to preside over it.

‘When the E2m was uncovered by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which then sought an arrest warrant for Shongwe, Ramodibedi blocked every attempt to have the ex-minister arrested.

‘He said “an arrest cannot be done against His Majesty’s sitting minister without proper clearance”, and ordered that no other judge should deal with the matter without his authorisation.

‘It was also claimed that the money belonged to clients of Shongwe’ law firm, but it later emerged that he had used part of it to settle personal financial obligations such as paying for household furniture.

‘Seeing the net hovering above him, Shongwe tried to pay an amount of E900,000, from the E2m, to the SRA, allegedly on behalf of Impunzi but the SRA was advised by the ACC not to dare touch that money because it was under investigation.

‘Despite the CJ’s efforts, Shongwe was eventually arrested and is currently languishing in prison facing two counts; one of refusing to divulge information to the ACC about money deposited into his law firm’s account and also the theft of a file at the High Court. He was charged with contravening the Corruption Act.’

See also

CHIEF JUSTICE RUNS TO SUPREME COURT
CHIEF JUSTICE CASE HEARD IN HIS ABSENCE
SWAZI CHIEF JUSTICE FIGHTS FOR HIS JOB

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