Just because Bushiri fled doesn't mean I will, says co-accused in bid for bail

Court hears self-proclaimed prophet said Willah Mudolo was a 'bad apple'

Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary in court before they fled SA. A co-accused in their case, Willah Mudolo, will know in a week whether he will be granted bail.
Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary in court before they fled SA. A co-accused in their case, Willah Mudolo, will know in a week whether he will be granted bail.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

Willah Mudolo, one of the accused in a R100m case involving self-proclaimed Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri, will know in a week whether he will be granted bail.

On Tuesday the case was postponed until December 22.

Mudolo, who is accused number one in the matter, appeared at the Pretoria magistrate's court alongside his wife, Zethu, and Landiwe Ntlokwana. The trio, together with Bushiri and his wife Mary, are facing charges of fraud, theft and money laundering to the tune of more than R100m relating to an alleged investment scheme.

On Monday, the attorney general in Malawi gave authorisation for the Malawi high court to issue a warrant of arrest for the Bushiris, who skipped from SA last month.

After cross-examination and re-examination of the investigating officer in the matter, Mudolo's legal representative, advocate JP Marais, argued there was no evidence his client would be any danger to any member of society if released on bail.

“He is married and has two children. From the time he found out about his arrest, he did not attempt to leave SA. He has left SA on numerous occasions and has returned every time. He has only one wife and two children. He is not going to run away and abandon them,” he said.

Marais said the R106m amount involved in the case was “paid back in 2017”.

He said there was no certainty the investigation into the matter would be ready for trial in a month's time, as stated by the investigating officer, and that the preparation for a defence would be severely hampered if his client was not granted bail.

The fact that Bushiri and his wife managed to exit SA in some illegal way has nothing to do with accused number one.
Advocate JP Marais

“There is a notion from the investigating officer that the Bushiris can be tried in absentia and that would not impede on the case. We know Bushiri is the prophet and is the person who incited investors to invest. He told them accused number one [Mudolo] is actually the bad apple who stole money in the matter.

“We know from reports yesterday that a minister in Malawi signed papers that will be presented on Monday, but we can see from the state's [prior] cases with reference to George Luca [accused of murdering strip club boss Lolly Jackson] and Shrien Dewani [accused of arranging his wife Anni's murder] how difficult it is to get people extradited.

“The extradition agreement between SA and Malawi as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has not been incorporated in SA law. On the evidence before court, the accused has proved beyond reasonable doubt he will attend the trial, given his personal circumstances and the assets he owns in SA.

“The fact that Bushiri and his wife, with the assistance of some corrupt officers, managed to exit SA in some illegal way should not influence this court. It has nothing to do with accused number one,” he said, adding that “the average Joe” could not afford to forfeit R25m worth of assets and lose his wife and children.

Marais said Mudolo’s application should be dealt with separately.

However, the state said Mudolo should not be granted bail because “the Bushiris broke their promise” to adhere to their bail conditions. Therefore, there was a likelihood that if given bail, Mudolo could flee the country, too.

Earlier during cross-examination, investigating officer Lt-Col Daniel Hosea Marais told the court more arrests were expected. He said the investigation was likely to be concluded “in the next month or so”, but that the matter was not yet ready for trial.

Marais had said his client was not a flight risk.

“He intends proving he deposited back all the money deposited into his account in 2017. He had nothing to do with the fraud, theft and money laundering case involving the Bushiris,” he said.

On Monday, the investigating officer, who is based in the Hawks' Specific Organised Crime component, told the court Mudolo was in possession of three cellphones while he was detained at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre. The cellphones were later confiscated.

An affidavit submitted by a correctional services officer, which was read out in court, stated Mudolo was in possession of three cellphones.

The court also heard that CCTV footage from the Airport Companies SA showed evidence of a person who looked like Mudolo trying to leave the country on October 13, 16 and 17, allegedly using different passports.

Marais said Mudolo did not present evidence why he is not a flight risk.

“It is not clear nor declared where the accused owns or leases property outside the borders of SA. It is also clear the accused generates funds or has access to funds from outside SA.

“The accused on his own account has strong ties with Hong Kong, Kenya, Nigeria, the United Kingdom and Zambia for reasons set out in this affidavit. The accused has international business ties and can run this type of criminal enterprise globally from anywhere in the world,” he said.

Mudolo, a Zambian national, previously told the court he intended pleading not guilty in the matter.

“I intend to plead not guilty and will provide evidence to the state that any and all funds paid into the business account of Rising Estates (Pty) Ltd, without my knowledge but on instructions of Mr Shepherd Bushiri, was repaid to the nominated account of Mr Shepherd Bushiri and various beneficiaries,” the court heard from his written sworn affidavit.

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