The leader of the Enlightened Christian Gatherings (ECG), Shepherd Bushiri, his wife Mary mand the co-accused, Landiwe Ntlokwana, spent another night behind bars as their bail proceedings drag on. The three were arrested on Tuesday on charges of fraud, money laundering, and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act to the tune of R102 million.
Bushiri, his wife and Ntlokwana’s first appearance was not about whether they should be released on bail or not, but rather if the state may ask for a postponement in the matter.
The state prosecutor told the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court they had to arrest Bushiri and his two co-accused before they were 100% ready after they received information that one of accused planned to flee.
She told the court they needed time to verify some of the addresses and family ties to establish whether Bushiri and his co-accused are flight risks.
The state prosecutor did not want to give her name to the media. She said it was not unusual for the state to ask for a postponement at a first appearance before a formal bail application is heard.
Bushiri and his co-accused’s Advocate, Annelene van den Heever, however, said the police had more than a year to finalise their investigation and said they expected them to have verified all their information at that time.
She told the court there was no need for a postponement as Bushiri and his wife were respectively already on R100 000 bail in another case. She said they knew about the investigation against them and still did not try to evade the police.
Van den Heever said all three accused have strong family ties in South Africa and emphasised that the Bushiri couple has permanent residency in the country.
Impact on congregation
In Bushiri’s affidavit, he said he does not understand the charges against him and that he plans to plead not guilty. Van den Heever told the court, as the spiritual leaders of the ECG church, it would be cruel to postpone the bail hearing or even deny bail as it will deprive the congregation of more than 2 million people of Bushiri’s guidance.
Spokesperson for the church, Terrence Baloyi, says they believe the state and police prejudice 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.”
Bushiri followers gathered at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court and waited hours in the sun in support of their pastor:
Bushiri, his wife and Ntlokwana’s arrests followed those of Willah and Zethu Mudolo. The couple is understood to be business partners of the Bushiris. Their formal bail application will be heard on 30 October.
The NPA has not released details of the latest allegations against Bushiri, but it is believed the charges relate to an investment scheme in which Bushiri told congregants they could earn a 50% profit within 30 days if they joined a “commodity investment opportunity”, with the minimum investment starting at R100 000.
Magistrate Thandi Theledi will rule on the state’s application for the postponement on Friday.
Depending on her ruling the formal bail application will be heard or be postponed to another date.