The trial of the 10 men facing charges in the Fishrot fishing quotas fraud, corruption and racketeering case must now start, acting judge Moses Chinhengo ruled in the High Court at Windhoek Correctional Facility yesterday.
Chinhengo gave the ruling after four of the accused in the case – former justice minister and attorney general Sacky Shanghala, his business partner James Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo and Pius Mwatelulo – told the judge they are not ready to give their pleas to the charges they are facing.
Shanghala, who made a lengthy address to the judge before the ruling was made, said he, Hatuikulipi and Mwatelulo are currently without legal representation and need to be given more time to prepare for their trial.
Gustavo, who is also not represented by a defence lawyer at this stage, told the judge that while he wants the trial to proceed, he cannot plead to the charges at this stage either.
In his ruling, Chinhengo said in his view justice requires that people accused of crimes must be brought to trial within a reasonable period of time.
He noted that the state’s indictment, which sets out the 42 charges on which the 10 individuals and two companies, 12 close corporations and four trusts represented by them are to be prosecuted, was served on the accused in October 2021, and that a court order setting the case down for trial from 2 October was issued in the High Court in February this year.
Chinhengo said the accused have been given a reasonable opportunity to make preparations for their trial.
If he acceded to the request of Shanghala and the other unrepresented accused for another postponement of the case, the trial would commence only a year from now, or six to eight months from now, Chinhengo said.
In his view, there is a need for the trial to commence now, he stated.
After the judge’s ruling, deputy prosecutor general Ed Marondedze, who is the lead prosecutor on the case, started to read the state’s indictment out in court.
After about an hour of reading, Marondedze had progressed about one tenth through the voluminous document, and had only completed reading the full citations of the accused and an introductory summary of the 42 charges listed against them.
Marondedze is due to continue reading the indictment when court proceedings continue today.
The accused will be asked to give their pleas to the charges once Marondedze reaches the last two thirds of the indictment, in which the actual charges and the specific allegations they contain are set out.
The charges are based on allegations that the accused had been involved in a multimillion-dollar scheme to illegally benefit from Namibian fishing quotas.
In his address to the judge, Shanghala said he, Hatuikulipi and Mwatelulo cannot be ready for their trial until they have engaged legal representatives, whom they are presently not able to pay.
Shanghala said he estimated it would take six to eight months for him to prepare for the trial.
He also lamented that a Prevention of Organised Crime Act property restraint order in terms of which assets belonging to him, Hatuikulipi, Gustavo, Mwatelulo, former minister of fisheries and marine resources Bernhard Esau and Esau’s son-in-law Tamson Hatuikulipi have been taken out of their control has left them destitute and unable to fund their legal representation.
Shanghala said he, Hatuikulipi and Mwatelulo, who were arrested on 27 November 2019, had been held in custody for 1 469 days by yesterday.
“Our arrest and that restraint order have had a devastating effect on our ability to protect our basic rights, particularly in respect of liberty, property and a fair trial,” he said.
He continued: “The restraint order has been particularly oppressive and destructive: All our assets are subject to the inordinate restraint. The immediate effect of the restraint order has been to render us destitute, with no means to protect our rights.”
Shanghala said an order that Chinhengo gave last week, when he directed that the accused should plead to the charges this week, is “a grave violation” of the right to a fair trial, which includes the right to be represented by a lawyer of his choice.
Shanghala also stated: “We deny being involved in any unlawful or criminal conduct. We certainly did not commit any crime.”
He added that a simple plea of guilty or not guilty would not be sufficient for them to defend themselves against the charges they face.
They also need to be advised on the terms of the pleas they should tender to best protect themselves, and would need the guidance of lawyers to investigate if some of the charges can be quashed, he said.
“Just as our founding fathers and mothers have fought and died for our liberation, we will fearlessly pursue our quest for a fair trial and justice,” Shanghala concluded his address.
Stay informed with The Namibian – your source for credible journalism. Get in-depth reporting and opinions for only N$85 a month. Invest in journalism, invest in democracy –