State must get its ‘act in order’ in Fishrot extradition case

DUCKING … Marén de Klerk covers his face as he appears in the Paarl Magistrate’s Court. Photo: M&G

The Paarl Magistrate’s Court has granted the state a postponement to Wednesday for its application to oppose bail for lawyer Marén de Klerk, the man wanted by Namibian authorities for his alleged role as paymaster in the ongoing multimillion ‘Fishrot’ corruption case.

Prosecutors are expected to submit a schedule five bail application opposing De Klerk’s release. However, advocate Marésa Engelbrecht indicated the state was not ready to proceed when De Klerk appeared in court on Monday.

Senior magistrate Morajee Naik demanded to know why state lawyers were unprepared when they had known De Klerk would be arrested and they would oppose his release. Engelbrecht said prosecutors were waiting for a statement from the investigating officer working on the case.

De Klerk is wanted by the Namibian government for corruption, fraud, theft and money laundering. He is accused of using his trust account for the distribution of ill-gotten loot to various accounts in the Fishrot corruption trial in which Namibia’s former fisheries minister Bernhardt Esau is embroiled.

On 1 February last year, the Paarl Magistrate’s Court issued a warrant of arrest for De Klerk, after the Namibian authorities requested his extradition.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation’s serious commercial crime investigation unit and Interpol arrested De Klerk last Thursday in Paarl, more than a year after the warrant was issued.

Christie Viviers, acting for the accused on Monday, described his client’s arrest as unconstitutional and an infringement on his rights.

At the time of De Klerk’s arrest, his phone and laptop were confiscated. Viviers said De Klerk had been asked to work with the authorities by disclosing the security codes for his devices, which he did.

After the defence objected that this was an infringement on De Klerk’s privacy, the state handed back the two devices.

Viviers emphasised that De Klerk had willingly met investigating officers from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) when he was arrested.

De Klerk and another alleged victim of a fraudulent lawyer were scheduled to meet the NPA regarding charges brought against the lawyer, but De Klerk was arrested halfway through the meeting.

The defence asked the magistrate why De Klerk had been arrested on that specific day when the court had issued an arrest warrant in February last year. Viviers said the police had had ample time to arrest his client, as he had visited them on numerous occasions in the matter concerning disbarred lawyer Ben van Heerden.

“He was in this country for more than a year and he was not arrested,” Viviers said.

He recalled an incident shortly after the arrest warrant was issued when a ‘Captain Mahope’ visited De Klerk’s house. De Klerk, who was not there at the time, asked the captain to send him the warrant, but the police never did.

Viviers asked that De Klerk be released on bail, arguing that “it is unfair to keep my client in custody. He has no intention to flee. He can hand in his passports”. De Klerk has dual Namibian-South African citizenship.

Engelbrecht told the court that De Klerk had been sought by authorities since February last year, but had been picked up after new evidence surfaced the week before his arrest.

Naik had a difficult time understanding how De Klerk was not arrested earlier while “at least two police officers knew of him [and] they had his cellphone number”.

The state maintained in March that it was thought that De Klerk was in Saldanha, on the West Coast, and that he had changed his name.

De Klerk’s defence confirmed that the name change – from Marén to Michael – was finalised in January after a media onslaught against him over his alleged role in the Fishcor corruption case.

Naik granted the state a postponement on Monday, but not without ordering that it get “its act in order” and have all documents ready on Wednesday. De Klerk will remain in custody in Allandale prison until then.

Meanwhile, the Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission has welcomed De Klerk’s arrest, with its director general Paulus Noa telling the Mail & Guardian that the entity was confident the arrest would result in “expeditious extradition proceedings”.

“Mr De Klerk, according to our investigation, has a case to answer and must, therefore, join other accused in the Fishrot case,” Noa said.

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