In an effort to expose alleged document tampering by the state and lies by its first witness Jack Milne, Tigon-accused Sue Bennett on Friday implicated her co-accused Gary Porritt in fraud and raised serious questions about her own role in events.
Porritt and Bennett are standing trial on more than 3 000 charges of fraud, racketeering and contraventions of the Income Tax Act, the Companies Act and the Stock Exchange Control Act.
The charges relate to the collapse of JSE listed financial services group Tigon around 2002. Due to numerous applications and appeals by the accused the start of the trial was delayed until late in 2016 and it has been dragging on at a snail’s pace, with Milne now being cross-examined by Bennett.
Both accused are without legal representation, claiming that they don’t have the money to pay lawyers. The state, however, accused them of using legal representation and the lack thereof as a strategy and alleged that Porritt has direct or indirect access to assets worth more than R100 million.
Bennett questioned Milne about an interview he allegedly gave in March 2002. The document she based her questions on appeared to be an email sent to Milne, Porritt and Bennett by PSCGG employee Marlene Brits. It contained a purported interview for publication in Beeld newspaper a few days later. Bennett did not know whether it was indeed published in Beeld.
In the interview, Milne stated that his investment fund – Progressive Systems College Guaranteed Growth (PSCGG), which was underwritten by Tigon – invested in blue-chip companies with substantial rand hedge and derivatives among other things.
Responding to Bennett’s questioning, Milne admitted that the statements were untrue since PSCGG was only invested in the shares of Tigon and its subsidiary Shawcell.
When the Tigon house of cards collapsed, PSCGG investors lost their money.
Milne previously testified that he, Porritt and Bennett conspired to defraud investors when they devised the PSCGG investment scheme and that they intentionally misled them in drafting the prospectus.
He admitted to the fraud years ago, reached a plea and sentence agreement with the state, and served a term in jail as a result.
Bennett implicates herself
Judge Brian Spilg pointed out to Bennett that every time Milne admitted to lying in the ‘interview’, he actually implicated her, because the interview containing the false statements was emailed to her as well before publication.
Bennett said she only got the Afrikaans version and that she does not understand Afrikaans.
Milne hit back, saying she saw everything that went to the media beforehand and it is unlikely that Brits would have sent her only the Afrikaans version, knowing that she does not understand the language.
Spilg said she could address the language issue later in argument.
Bennett pointed out that the document containing the interview was not in the case docket, as one would expect it to be.
Spilg said that was irrelevant, and that she was going around in circles. He accused her of delaying the matter and said the line of questioning was irrelevant unless she tried to show something other than that Milne was lying or that the state tampered with documents.
She nevertheless continued in the same vein and Spilg accused her of ignoring his ruling. He warned her that by referring to documents in the docket she opens them up, which may damage her case. “Have you considered it?” he asked Bennet.
Spilg told Bennett that the case against her and Porritt may well be decided on whether the state can show a paper trail, and whether they [the accused] can exclude any other possibility other than that the money was unlawfully appropriated by them.
He said whether or not she had some documents (from the state) may be of no consequence in the greater scheme of things.
Another day wasted
He disallowed further questions along the same line, saying she has been delaying the trial. He put it on record that the whole day was wasted.
Porritt asked to see the original document. It was shown to him and bears his signature in pencil, indicating that he saw the document at the time.
Spilg instructed Porritt to make a note if he wants to deny that it was indeed his original signature. “If not, it will be taken to be original and [that it was] received before publication, therefore you would have been a party to the fraud Bennet said was perpetrated,” he advised Porritt.
On the same day, the state said it offered to arrange with Porritt’s family to fetch files from them in Pietermaritzburg, which he apparently needs for his trial preparation. He did not respond to the offer, the state told the court.
Porritt told the court that he would have to go to Pietermaritzburg as well.
Spilg told Porritt, who is in jail after failing to attend to court early in 2017, that he simply doesn’t have the freedom to do so. “The offer stands. Take it or leave it, but it [Porritt’s decision] will have consequences,” Spilg warned.
The trial will continue on Monday.