Swaziland’s sacked Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi was ‘generally corrupt’ and acted in a ‘highly disreputable way’, an official report leaked to a South African newspaper has revealed.
Ramodibedi was sacked by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, after three charges of abuse of office were found against him.
Ramodibedi had barricaded himself in his home in the Swazi capital Mbabane for 38 days after an arrest warrant was issued.
Eventually, the Swazi Judicial Service Commission (JSC) heard a case against Ramodibedi in his absence and found him guilty.
The charges were:
1. Abuse of office – In the allocation of the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) matter which was heard to hear a case brought by Ramodibedi against the SRA for taxing his gratuity to the amount of E128 000 (US$12,800).
2. Abuse of office – In the hearing of the Impunzi Wholesalers (PTY) Ltd v The Swaziland Revenue Authority, in which it is alleged wealthy businessmen offered judges E2 million to help them win their case against the SRA involving the importation of goods into the kingdom.
3. Abuse of office in order to achieve an ulterior motive – In the hearing of the Estate Policy matter, where it is alleged Ramodibedi appointed three acting High Court judges to hear the case when their terms of office had expired.
The Mail and Guardian newspaper revealed a report by the Swazi Judicial Service Commission (JSC) which has not been officially released also said Ramodibedi had threatened to shoot at police if they tried to arrest him at his home.
The JSC report found Ramodibedi:
· ‘Had “a generally corrupt relationship” with the former Swazi justice minister, Sibusiso Shongwe, who has also been sacked and charged with corruption. When Shongwe was arrested, investigators found a high court file relating to the application for a warrant of arrest against him. “Evidence tendered … in a bail application revealed that the file had been given to Shongwe by the registrar of the high court on the instruction of the chief justice,” the JSC noted;
· ‘Appointed another judge, Mpendulo Simelane, to hear Ramodibedi’s personal dispute with the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) over the taxation of a gratuity, knowing Simelane was conflicted. His aim, it says, was “unlawfully to obtain a judgment in his favour from the [SRA] … in an amount of R128 800”;
· ‘Acted in a “highly disreputable way” by reinstating an application in an estate policy dispute, although it had been withdrawn. His aim was to serve the interests of Shongwe, a respondent. He had also allowed Shongwe to address the judges presiding over the matter; and
· ‘“Employed all delaying tactics” to stall the impeachment process, including bringing four court applications aimed at forcing the commission JSC to recuse itself.’
The JSC also criticised Ramodibedi’s role in presiding over a dispute between the SRA and Impunzi Wholesalers over duty on imported blankets, while he was in conflict with the revenue authority.
The newspaper reported that Shongwe told him ‘a wealthy businessman’ was willing to hand over R2 million (US$200,000) – R200,000 for Simelane, R500,000 for Ramodibedi and the balance for the minister – ‘if we can help them win the case’.
Ramodibedi allegedly insisted Simelane should be part of the supreme court bench that was to hear an appeal in the matter. This was despite the latter’s protests that he was not eligible for appointment to the supreme court.
Following the JSC hearing King Mswati fired Ramodibedi on 17 June 2015.
Ramodibedi who is a native of Lesotho was allowed to leave Swaziland following his sacking and is now believed to be living in Ladybrand in the Free State, South Africa. The arrest warrant was subsequently reissued.
SWAZI CHIEF JUSTICE’S HISTORY OF ABUSE