The state in the bail hearing of the leader of the Enlightened Christian Gatherings Church, Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary, has asked the Lilongwe court in Malawi to keep the couple in custody at the Maula Prison for 30 days.
Dr Steve Kayuni, for the state, argued that considering that the Bushiris absconded from South Africa, there is a risk that they will also not honour their bail conditions in Malawi.
The couple handed themselves over to the authorities in Malawi after they became aware that an Interpol arrest warrant was out for them.
They are charged in South Africa with theft, fraud and money laundering involving more than 100 million rand.
Media in Malawi reports the state argued the 30 days will allow for final communications with South African authorities on the extradition process for the Bushiris.
Their lawyer, Wapona Kita objected to the postponement demanding the couple be released unconditionally.
He said it is surprising that the state arrested the Bushiris when Malawi has not yet formally received the extradition request. The court adjourned for an hour to decide on the matter.
Bushiris mansion forfeited to the state in SA
The Pretoria Magistrate’s Court ruled that the R5.5 million Pretoria property belonging to Bushiri and his wife has been forfeited to the state.
Magistrate Thandi Theledi, who had granted them bail, made the ruling earlier on Thursday morning.
The couple fled the country to Malawi last week, contravening their bail conditions.
The Bushiri case
The couple was arrested in October on charges of fraud, money laundering and theft worth more than R102 million.
Despite the fact that the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court initially regarding the Bushiris as a flight risk, they were granted R200 000 bail each on condition that they hand in their passports and report to the nearest police station every Monday and Friday.
Below are facts and important dates related to the Bushiri case:
16 April 2018
Bushiri labels claims of him transporting an estimated R15 million to Malawi on a private jet as false.
This followed a studio interview conducted by SABC News anchor Palesa Chubisi on 4 April 2020, with Pastor Daniel Phaladi; who wrote an article entitled “Do you want miracle money?” During the discussion, Chubisi made reference to the confirmed investigation by the Hawks into Bushiri for allegedly transporting the money to Malawi.
Bushiri said he was not even aware that he was under investigation by the Hawks.
“I have never been approached by any law enforcement to say that I am doing anything illegal; I have never been questioned or served any warrant to say I am doing illegal activities. Since I was born or since I came to South Africa, I have never had any issues with the police.”
1 February 2019
Bushiri and his wife are arrested at a hotel in Rustenburg, in the North West, by the Hawks for fraud, money laundering and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA), committed from 2015, in relation to Exchange Control Regulations related to foreign currency.
The Hawks say the arrest follows an investigation that was launched in 2018.
4 – 6 February 2019
The Bushiris appear in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria on charges of money laundering and fraud. The matter is postponed to two days later, 6 February 2019.
On 6 February, the couple is granted R100 000 bail each.
This was amid a stampede at the Enlightened Christian Gathering church, which claimed the lives of three people. The church says the stampede happened while congregants tried to get shelter during heavy thundershowers.
While the incident happened on a Friday night, police say they were only notified of it the following evening.
South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) tried getting his church shut down after the stampede, but the CRL Rights Commission cleared the church, saying it had fully complied with safety regulations.
9 May 2019
The Bushiris appear before the Pretoria Commercial Crime Court and their case is postponed due to security concerns.
Then Hawks spokesperson, Hangwani Mulaudzi, says the move was to avoid commotion outside the court, especially since the country was still preparing for the general elections.
Bushiri also urges his followers to vote after some of them threated to boycott the elections because of the self-proclaimed prophet’s arrest.
1 January 2020
At a crossover service, Bushiri thanks his followers for sticking with him.
“We experienced several challenges in 2019, but you stood with us. Some counted our downfall, but you stood firm with our ministry and on this fourth Crossover Service you have filled up FNB stadium. This is a testimony of your resolve.”
27 July 2020
The Bushiris’ trial starts. The state requests for a postponement to July 2020 citing COVID-19 as the reason.
The state says some witnesses are in isolation, including an investigating officer, who was supposed to take the stand.
However, Bushiri’s legal team opposed the state’s application, arguing that accused people are entitled to a speedy trial. They also argued that prolonged postponements are in violation of the accused’s constitutional rights.
Following arguments from both sides, the court granted a pre-trial conference to be held on the 16 October. It says it has taken into consideration the state’s reasoning regarding application for postponement, as well as the defense’s argument opposing the application.
21 October 2020
The Bushiris appear in court. This after Bushiri hands himself over to the police station in Silverton, Pretoria. Reports say his wife was arrested the previous day at the couple’s Sandton residence in Johannesburg.
The couple is accused of fraud and money laundering totalling R102 million, along with two other suspects who were arrested in Johannesburg. The two other suspects, Willah Mudolo and Zethu Mudolo and are expected to apply for bail on 30 October.
The case is a different to the one the couple was already on trial for, but it is on the same charges.
The state prosecutor tells the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court that they are 100% ready after they received information that one of accused planned to flee. The prosecutor says they need time to verify the accused’s addresses and family ties to establish if the Bushiris are a flight risk.
However, the accused’s legal representative advocate Annelene van den Heever says the state had over a year to finalise their investigation.
She tells the court there was no need for a postponement as Bushiri and his wife were respectively already on R100 000 bail in another case and did not try to evade the police.
Spokesperson for the church, Terrence Baloyi, says they believe the state and police are prejudiced against their pastor.
“The intention is clearly not to seek justice. The intention is clearly not to make sure that justice prevails at the end of the day. We can assure you the prophet and prophetess are innocent creatures of God; whatever they are charged with are charges that are baseless and cannot stand any test of any court proceedings. I can assure you, we feel this is nothing but a personal vendetta.”
In several court appearances that occur after, the Bushiris say they handed over their passports in early 2019 when they were arrested for a different matter and they’ve never attempted to skip the country.
Issues of Bushiri’s citizenship status are brought to question. On an interview with SAfm, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says the department has uncovered evidence that the couple entered the country on 9 September 2009 using visitors’ visas and conducted business with it, which is not permitted by the visa.
He further says in 2019, Mary Bushiri entered the country through OR Tambo International Airport, producing a passport. She then produced a fraudulent permanent residence permit, which was issued on 1 February 1997.
Motsoaledi says this didn’t make sense as Mary applied for permanent residence in 2016.
4 November 2020
The High Court in Pretoria grants the Bushiris bail of R200 000 each. Co-accused Landiwe Ntlokwana is given given R100 000 bail and Zethu Mudolo R20 000.
Magistrate Thandi Thelede outlines the Bushiris’ bail conditions; including reporting to their nearest police station every Monday and Friday and not leaving South Africa.
14 November 2020
In a statement, Bushiri announces that he and his wife have fled South Africa and gone to his home country of Malawi. He cites threats to his life, among other reasons for fleeing.
Bushiri further requests protection from the South African government.
However, State House and the South African government have dismissed those claims.