A full bench of three judges of the High Court on Monday unanimously dismissed Tigon-accused Gary Porritt’s appeal against the 2017 cancellation of his bail and the forfeiting of his R100 000 bail money.
This means that Porritt, who together with Sue Bennett, is standing trial on more than 3 000 charges relating to the collapse of financial services group Tigon around 2002, will most probably spend another Christmas in the Johannesburg prison, also known as Sun City.
The full bench found that Porritt did not have a reasonable explanation for his failure to appear in court on June 19, 2017, and that he wanted to delay court proceedings. They found that this ties in with the history of the case, which has been characterised by efforts by the both accused to drag out the proceedings against them.
Porritt and Bennett were arrested in 2002 and 2003 respectively, but the trial only started late in 2016 due to several applications and appeals brought by the accused.
In 2010 the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found that the accused “intend to employ every stratagem available to them in order to delay the commencement and thereafter continuation of the trial for as long as they possibly can”.
In March this year judge Ramarumo Monama found that Porritt is acting like former president Jacob Zuma by bringing applications aimed at delaying his criminal trial “even when there is manifestly no prospect (of success)”. In dismissing a fresh bail application by Porritt, Monama said Porritt’s criminal trial has the hallmark of the “Zuma Principle”.
Two years after the trial started the testimony of the first witness Jack Milne has not yet been completed. Milne was the CEO of Progressive Systems College (PSC) and testified that he conspired with the accused to defraud investors in an investment fund underwritten by Tigon. He served a term in jail after reaching a plea and sentence agreement with the state.
Porritt’s bail was provisionally revoked in 2017 when he failed to appear in court on June 12, 13, 14 and 19. He later testified that he was admitted to hospital after he fainted several times. He underwent several tests but was later discharged.
After an inquiry trial, judge Brian Spilg found that Porritt never intended to appear in court on the relevant dates and that his aim in being absent was to further delay the trial.
He later denied Porritt leave to appeal against the cancellation of his bail, but Porritt got leave to appeal to a full bench of the High Court after petitioning the SCA.
The full bench found that Porritt had a reasonable explanation for not attending court on June 12 and the two following days, but June 19 was another matter.
The court found that it was quite clear from the chronology of events that Porritt arranged “his admission into Oatlands (a psychiatric care centre) on 18 June 2017, so that he would not be able to appear in court on 19 June 2017.”
‘Close to death’, but declined help
The court based this finding on the notes made by two different doctors indicating that Porritt requested their assistance to avoid his court appearance. It further noted that Porritt and his family refused to have a medical practitioner accompany him on the trip from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg after his arrest. This despite his later testimony that he was close to death during the trip.
The judges found that the stark contrast between Porritt’s conduct as seen on CCTV footage while he was in Milpark Hospital and a few hours earlier in court further corroborates the fact that he was quite able to appear in court and continue with the trial. In court, he appeared to be too sick to even sit in a chair and lay on the floor while the proceedings continued. Just a few hours later, however, he was “not walking slowly, he was not immobile or uneasy on his feet, and he had no difficulty sitting up and sitting on a chair, as opposed to lying on the floor”, the full bench found.
The court stated that Porritt is not without remedy. He could present the new evidence that he was not allowed to present during this appeal as part of a new bail application to the trial court. The inquiry into his failure to appear in court in 2017 was limited, but during a fresh bail hearing the court could assess whether Porritt is a flight risk or would interfere with witnesses, the court found.
The trial will resume on January 28 next year, when the accused will continue cross-examining Milne.