Windhoek-based lawyer Dirk Conradie and friend Sara Damases scored a minor victory in their long-running fraud and corruption trial in the Windhoek High Court on Thursday before Judge Thomas Masuku on Friday last week.
Judge Masuku dismissed an application by State Advocate Ed Marondedze to have the voice recordings made by Mark Bongers and Kim Fields – the owners of advertising company DV8 Saatchi and Saatchi – during a meeting they had with Conradie and Damases admitted as evidence. The recordings had been admitted only provisionally.
Conradie and Damases face three counts of contravening the Anti-Corruption Act for allegedly attempting to bribe Bongers and his wife, as well as business partner Fields with the massive advertising contract of MTC, where Conradie was the board chairman.
He allegedly promised them the MTC advertising contract if they took Damases on board as a black economic empowerment (BEE) partner.
Bongers made a recording of a meeting he and Fields had with Conradie and Damases in the office of Conradie on 12 June 2012 and subsequently reported the alleged bribe to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
In the recordings, Conradie can be heard asking Bongers and Fields whether they had a BEE partner – and when Bongers answered in the negative, Conradie said he could provide them with one.
Conradie can further be heard saying the company of Bongers and Fields – DV8 Saatchi and Saatchi – is not the favourite to win the MTC advertising contract, worth an estimated N$60 million at the time, but that he could change it in their favour.
Conradie and Damases objected to the recordings entered as evidence, as the recordings were made by the late Dr Paul Ludik, and they are not in the position to cross-examine him on the authenticity, reliability and accuracy of the recordings.
According to the judge, the onus remains on the State to prove whether the recordings are authentic, reliable and accurate. He further said that Dr Ludik’s passing makes it impossible for the accused to enforce their constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial, as they will not be able to question him on key elements of his testimony.
However, the judge said, what remained for him to determine was whether enough evidence was placed before the court to show that the recordings were accurate, authentic and reliable.
“Although nothing may have been raised from the cross-examination of Bongers and Fields, there is no guarantee that issues of authenticity, reliability and accuracy would have not have been raised with Dr Ludik, whom it appears common cause that he dealt with the recordings and decoded the information from Bongers’ phone,” the judge said.
Judge Masuku further said Ludik would have been able to fortify and mention with a degree of finality what he did and would have possibly excluded possibilities of interference and manipulation of the exhibits.
He would also have been expected to clear any issues regarding the authenticity, accuracy and reliability of the exhibits.
Evidence regarding issues of the integrity and storage of the device, and the manner in which the recording was extracted to exclude any interference or manipulation must be placed before the court. In the absence of such evidence, the judge said, he has no option but to declare the recordings inadmissible as evidence.
Conradie is represented by South African senior advocate Vas Soni, who is instructed by advocate Slysken Makando.
Vetu Uanivi is on record for Damases. The matter is postponed to 21 September, and Conradie and Damases are free on bail.