Prophet's lawyers get court to bar photographs taken of fraud accused

Circus at Bushiri's court case...the faithful pray for Papa

Shepherd Bushiri, the leader of the Enlightened Church Christian Gathering, and wife his Mary are facing charges of fraud and money laundering worth R102m.
Shepherd Bushiri, the leader of the Enlightened Church Christian Gathering, and wife his Mary are facing charges of fraud and money laundering worth R102m.
Image: File

The state's case against Shepherd Bushiri, his wife Mary and their co-accused Landiwe Ntlokwana descended into a farce yesterday with the media barred from taking pictures of the controversial self-proclaimed prophet and his flock chanting and singing.

The hearing into the R102 million fraud and money-laundering charges brought against Bushiri, 37, and his co accused in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court presented an extraordinary spectacle both inside and outside the courtroom. 

The case is related to the operations of a Sandton company known as Rising Estate, which allegedly defrauded investors in a foreign exchange trade scheme.

Outside the court, members of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church came in their hundreds to support their leaders and police had to maintain order and control traffic along Francis Baard Street where the court is based. The congregants sang songs saying “the God of Bushiri”.

Some of the congregants carried 2020 calendars showing Bushiri’s with outstretched arms and the church’s theme, “The year of God’s open hands”.

In the magistrate's chambers, Bushiri’s lawyers objected to video and pictures of the proceedings being taken. They argued without providing exceptional reasons that media houses should have brought a formal court application drafted by lawyers for them to be granted permission.

The lawyers, however, refused to explain why their clients were entitled to such special treatment.

The National Prosecuting Authority bizarrely did not oppose the defence’s objection to media taking pictures of a man facing such serious charges.  Instead magistrate Thandi Theledi ordered journalists not to take pictures or video of the accused in the dock.

Police kept a watchful eye on journalists using the cellphones in court to ensure no pictures or video were taken. Court officials instructed everyone in court room 16 to switch off their mobile phones.

And when proceedings got underway the state put an application for the matter to be postponed, saying it needed time to verify information such as Bushiri and his wife's residential address and their immigration status in SA.

The unnamed investigating officer in the case said the address where Bushiri and his wife lived was yet to be confirmed as the fixed address provided in Watefall Estate in Midrand was found with a "for sale" sign.

The state said it has an affidavit from the department of home affairs indicating that Bushiri and his wife’s status in the country is unclear. It further said the address given by Ntlokwana could not be confirmed as police indicated that no one knew her at the residence she provided.

A prosecutor, who refused to give her name, said the charges faced by the three involved financial transactions and therefore investigators had to get bank statements and title deeds, which are not easily accessible.

She said since their bail application in a related case last year, police had been hard at work investigating the matter.

“During investigations the IO realised that there is some changes to relevant information which may have an influence in the court’s decision,” the prosecutor said.

She further argued that the application was done in good faith and it was in the interest of justice for the state to be granted the postponement.

But lawyers representing the accused were opposed to the move, arguing that the state has had ample time to verify all information.

Anneline Van Den Heever for the defence said: “You don’t arrest people and later do investigations on the allegations you have against them…You don’t arrest people as a form of punishment.”

She added that police had arrested Bushiri and his wife last year and the same investigating officer was handling both cases

Van Den Heever said Bushiri’s place of residents in Waterfall Estate was not his property. Van Den Heever presented the bail affidavits of the three before court saying Bushiri made R566,000 a month and his wife stated that she makes more than R200,000 a month.

“My clients have congregants who depend on them for spiritual upliftment... It would be cruel and inhumane not to take that into account,” Van Den Heever said.

The state and the defense ultimately agreed for the matter to be rolled to tomorrow , where the state will respond to the defence’s arguments. Van Den Heever then asked the court to keep the three at the Villiera police station where "they were treated well".

Bushiri, who was dressed in a navy suit and white shirt sat quietly with his wife and Ntlokwana during proceedings.

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