Moroadi Cholota, former personal assistant of suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, is no longer a state witness but is now a suspect in the asbestos case.
This emerged during the pre-trial hearing in the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein on Wednesday when prosecutor Johan de Nysschen told the court he has signed a warrant of arrest for Cholota.
In November last year, when Magashule applied for bail in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court, the prosecution claimed Cholota would testify against Magashule.
Questions have been raised whether Cholota was a state witness, with the defence team for Magashule pointing out that the statement by Cholota, provided in the docket, was not signed.
Laurence Hodes SC, for Magashule, said the question of whether Cholota was a state witness needed to be resolved before the plea.
However, De Nysschen told the court on Wednesday that Cholota was not cooperating with the state.
He said the state had sent detectives to the US, where she resides, and they came back and informed the state that Cholota was not cooperative and therefore did not agree to be a state witness.
“Under the circumstances, I had no choice but to sign a warrant of arrest for her. We are in the process of getting her back to SA.
“She is a suspect and soon to be an accused in the matter. If we cannot get her timeously, the state will have no choice but to proceed without her,” De Nysschen said.
Hodes said it was the first time on Wednesday that he and his legal team heard about Cholota’s changed status .
Free State judge president Cagney Musi asked Hodes whether he will pursue this issue because it is now known Cholota will be an accused person.
Hodes said during Magashule’s bail application last year, the state had informed the court that Cholota was a state witness and the state remained in communication with her.
“That could not have been the truth,” Hodes said.
He said the charges against Magashule were premised on evidence given by Cholota at the state capture inquiry.
Hodes said two of the accused in the case have also raised a fundamental objection to the trial, having been forced to testify before the state capture inquiry, and were being prosecuted based on the answers they provided.
Hodes argued that these accused should not be tried based on their testimony before the inquiry.
“These issues need to be resolved before the plea stage,” Hodes said.
The court postponed the case to February 21 next year when these preliminary matters by five of the 16 accused will be heard by the court.
The case relates to the R255m Free State asbestos roofing removal tender while Magashule was premier of the province.
While R21m went to a company that did an audit of houses with asbestos roofs in the province, the rest allegedly went to businesspeople, politicians and government officials.
Magashule is one of the accused arrested in connection with the asbestos roof case. Others include businessperson Edwin Sodi, former Mangaung mayor Olly Mlamleli and former Free State human settlements head of department Nthimotse Mokhesi.