Minister of Trade and Industry, Vincent Seretse and his co-accused, businessman Paul Paledi, are off the hook after the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) applied for a withdrawal of corruption charges against them yesterday
High Court Judge Bengbame Sechele yesterday freed Trade and Industry Minister Vincent Seretse and his co-accused, businessman Paul Paledi, after the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) applied for a withdrawal of charges against them. The case, which was set down for four days, ended after only 26 minutes. Soon after the lawyers for both the accused persons and the State had identified themselves, Justice Sechele wanted to know if the accused had already pleaded or not.
Attorney Mosweu Ditodi of the DPP was the first to stand up and address the court. Answering to the Judge’s specific question, he said the accused had not pleaded as yet. When the Judge asked if they could, Ditodi explained that there were new developments regarding the State’s case and added that it might not be necessary for the accused to plead because the State had decided to apply for a withdrawal of the charges.
Michael Hellens, representing Seretse, observed that while pleading was the appropriate step at that point in time, they would not object to the State’s application to withdraw the charges. At that point, Advocate Schalk Burger representing Paledi concurred with Hellens.
Ditodi then explained that there had been a fundamental change of circumstances regarding their case. He said two witnesses, who were central to their case, were not available. One of the witnesses, Lebekwe Moatshe was deceased and the other one, Berndt Astrom, had skipped the country to his native land, Sweden.
Ditodi said although they had 32 other witnesses, there was no point proceeding with the case because the two key witnesses who could “make the viable link” were not there.
“After pondering over the prospects of this trial and having had intensive consultations at DPP at a high level, and informed by the Judgment of Nchindo versus Directorate of Public Prosecutions and others in the Court of Appeal, the prosecution team arrived at the conclusion that we adopt a fair and prudent approach,” he said.
In that particular case, Ditodi said, the Court of Appeal had stated that the prosecutor should always ensure that an accused person’s constitutional rights are not infringed.
“After careful analysis, we decided that without the two individuals this trial would go nowhere.” “Calling the other witnesses just for the sake of calling them when we know that there is a missing link will serve no purpose.”
“We have, as a result of our consultation, decided that we apply for the charges to be withdrawn,” he said. Ditodi said they had also brought an investigation officer with them, who had worked on the case, so that if necessary he could furnish the court with more information to give appreciation of the State’s predicament.
In response, Hellens said the defence agreed with the State and did not believe the investigation officer was required to take the stand for further explanation.
“We accept unequivocally what the learned attorney has said and we don’t think it is necessary for the investigation officer to take the stand when we are not going to cross examine him. We agree that charges be withdrawn without prejudice,” he said. Paledi’s lawyer also concurred with Hellens’ statement.
When the case, which has been going on for the last three years, was heard last August, the presiding Judge at the time, Justice Tshepo Motswagole, quashed the first count against Seretse and Paledi for being “prejudicial to the accused” meaning that there was only one charge left. The charge against Seretse was that he allegedly participated in the proceedings of the BTC board relating to the awarding of Tender No. BTC/Mob/DLR003/2008-09 to Serala (Pty) Ltd. It is alleged that between March 5 and 8, 2008 in Gaborone, whilst employed as the BTC CEO, Seretse abused his authority and ordered the recruitment of eight employees of BTC to render their services to Serala, whilst they were still under the employ of the parastatal.
The charge against Paledi was that he allegedly gave false information to Cecil Masiga in his capacity as the evaluation team leader employed by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, relating to the eight BTC employees and Serala (Pty) Ltd.