21 March 2023 | 11:53 PM

Block’s strange taste in lawyer

Key Takeaways

John Block, the ANC Northern Cape leader accused of tender fraud with 11 others, is being defended by a man who has a serious corruption cloud over his own head.

Block’s counsel, advocate Cornwell Tshavhungwa, was convicted in 2007 of sabotaging a major fraud and corruption investigation while he was a deputy director in the Scorpions.

The conviction was later set aside on a technicality, but prosecutors are appealing.

Tshavhungwa was at Block’s side this week in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court where Block and his co-accused, Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi, were granted bail of R100 000 each.

Tshavhungwa was one of the Scorpions’ most senior investigators.

The charges against him stem from a high- profile investigation seven years ago into the now-defunct Mpumalanga Economic Empowerment Corpora- tion (MEEC).

Tshavhungwa allegedly accepted cash personally and benefits for relatives from MEEC in return for sabotaging the investigation. He was convicted in the Pretoria Regional Court on two counts of fraud and perjury.

MEEC was a parastatal established by the Mpumalanga provincial government to develop the local economy.

Its chief executive, Ernest Khoza, was allegedly a “university buddy” of Tshavhungwa.

The Scorpions investigated it for massive financial irregularities.

Tshavhungwa led the investigation, but allegedly got Khoza to employ his brother and wife at MEEC.

Tshavhungwa allegedly passed on information obtained during the investigation to Ramcorp Business Concepts, a company owned by his cousin which won a tender from MEEC to provide risk management services.

Tshavhungwa allegedly had a financial interest in Ramcorp and personally received large amounts of “consulting” fees.

The magistrate who tried him lambasted him for being part of the “cancer” that was destroying democracy.

Tshavhungwa could not be reached for comment, but he has previously claimed that the investigation into his actions was part of a dubious agenda on the part of Bulelani Ngcuka, then head of the National Prosecuting Authority.

He accused Ngcuka of waging a “witch-hunt” against him because he failed to cooperate in a corruption investigation into former Limpopo premier Ngoaka Ramathlodi. Ngcuka, in turn, denied this.

Tshavhungwa had his conviction overturned in 2009 when a Pretoria High Court judge found that his trial had been unfair, as he had not been granted a postponement he requested when he had no money to engage a lawyer to submit written heads of argument at the end his trial.

But prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, who prosecuted Tshavhungwa in 2007, has petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeal, arguing that Tshav- hungwa did not have an unfair trial, and to have the conviction reinstated. A date for the hearing is yet to be set.

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Aisha Abdool Karim

Aisha is a freelance science and health reporter. She is joining the amaB team to work on a project about water and sanitation. Aisha’s passion for long-form narrative and investigative journalism was sparked while doing her master’s degree at Columbia University in New York. After graduating in 2018, she returned to South Africa and began working as a general beat reporter for the Daily Maverick. Aisha joined the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism in 2020 to focus on science reporting. During her time there, she covered the COVID-19 pandemic extensively — from fact-checking harmful medical misinformation to unpacking the science behind vaccine development. Aisha’s special interests include analysing health systems and in-depth coverage of public health issues and infectious diseases. She also loves spreadsheets and digging through data.

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