BUSINESSMAN Harbinder Sethi has asked the High Court’s corruption and economic crimes division to grant him bail pending committal proceedings and trial in the 350bn/- economic sabotage case he is facing, citing health complications, among reasons.
A team of his advocates, comprising Melchisedeck Lutema, Mohamed Khan and Joseph Makandege told Judge Winfrida Korosso last Friday that there were “special circumstances” warranting the court to consider bail to the businessman – even though some of the charges he is facing weren’t bailable.
It was Mr Makendege who opened the floor for defence submissions, arguing that among the charges Sethi was facing included money laundering, which under the Tanzanian laws were not bailable.
But he argued such offences had been “preferred” by the prosecution maliciously to deny bail to his client. According to him, the basis of money laundering charges was wanting because the money from the escrow account under the centre of the dispute originated from the Bank of Tanzania (BoT).
“It will be inconceivable for one to contend that the Bank of Tanzania will keep illicit money,” he submitted. He told the court that money involved in the transaction was lawfully paid to Pan Africa Power Solutions Tanzania Limited (PAP) under which Sethi is the Executive Chairman and shareholder.
Submitting on the question of illness, Mr Makendege informed the court that his client was seriously sick. Referring to several paragraphs of the affidavit sworn by the businessman, the advocate submitted that his client underwent multiple complexes surgical procedures in a Johannesburg where an intragastrical balloon was inserted into his stomach and regular medical attention were prescribed for him.
Mr Makendege submitted that there are uncontroverted evidence on serious illness, health complications, want of expertise and equipment for handling his client’s case in Tanzania. Sethi, he argued, requires urgent specialized medical attention without which he may be unable to survive.
Under the circumstances, he submitted, there were exceptional circumstances that warrant the court to depart from the general statutory provisions under section 148 (4) (a) (v) of the Criminal Procedure Act, prohibiting granting of bail to an accused charged with money laundering such as the businessman.
Mr Khan, a lawyer from Durban South Africa, pointed out that the cited law should not be interpreted as a bar to the grant of bail, as there were special circumstances where charges of money laundering could be bailable.
He cited several case laws, among them from South Africa, to support his position. He asked the court to grant bail to the accused in the interest of justice, considering the fact that he has been in remand for almost four months and no trial has commenced yet.
Such position, he submitted, was against the principal that justice delayed is justice denied. Mr. Lutema concluded by submitting that the word “shall” contained in the provision governing bail on money laundering charges should not be interpreted to mean, “Mandatory” given the circumstances surrounding the matter.
“If such word is interpreted to mean mandatory will defeat the object for denial of bail, which is to ensure the accused attend his trial. It will mean denying him to medical attention and endangering his life. It is the duty of this court to protect the life of person who appears before it,” he submitted.
In his response to the submissions by the defence, Principal State Attorney Dr Zainab Mango, for the prosecution, told the court that the law was very clear that money laundering offences under which the accused stand charged with are not bailable.
She submitted on the medical evidence that the law does not provide any exceptional circumstances for the court to depart from the law to grant bail to the accused. Therefore, she said, the accused should be advised to pursue such right instead of bail.
After hearing the arguments from both parties, the judge said she would deliver the ruling on the matter on October 25. In the trial, Sethi and his co-businessman James Rugemalira are facing 12 counts of conspiracy, leading organized crime, forgery, uttering a false document, obtaining money by false pretences, occasioning loss to a specified authority and money laundering.