Bail granted after three weeks to top cop accused of R1m dagga theft
A SENIOR Cape policewoman accused of stealing more than R1 million in seized dagga from her own police station has been released on bail – after three weeks behind bars.
Princess Benjamin, 44, was station commissioner at Macassar police station when she was arrested on December 30 with an alleged accomplice, a woman constable from Philippi East, Nosipho Pikini, 33.
Yesterday, in the Somerset West Magistrate’s Court, the pair were released on R5 000 and R3 000 bail respectively – before taking desperate measures to evade the media.
First, Benjamin’s high-powered attorney William Booth gained permission to drive the pair from inside the court grounds, to avoid them having to walk out and face the press waiting outside.
And then they sped away from Somerset West police station in a new Mercedes-Benz station wagon with its Eastern Cape registration plate deliberately masked with a sheet of paper and tape.
On December 3, more than half a ton of dagga, reported in the charge sheet as worth R1 182 000, was taken from evidence stores at Macassar police station.
The two were charged on five counts: dealing in drugs or possession of drugs, theft, fraud, corruption and defeating the ends of justice, as presented by senior prosecutor Denzil Sass.
Sass first told the court on January 11 that the State was opposed to the pair being granted bail – citing investigators’ fears that the pair would intimidate State witnesses.
But after days of heated argument by Booth, who represented Benjamin, magistrate N Magutywa yesterday finally ruled that the State had no grounds on which to deny the pair their freedom.
Instead, the court ruled that their lawyers had successfully proved that it would be in the interests of justice to release them.
Reasons included the fact that the women were both mothers – to three and six children respectively – that, certain family members were ill, that they had fixed property and that neither held a passport.
Outside the court, numerous Macassar residents tried to petition the court not to grant the pair bail, but this was not considered legitimate grounds to deny bail.
The two were, however, released on strict bail conditions.
These include having to report to the police once a week and their being prohibited from leaving the province unless they get the police investigators’ permission.
In addition, they were ordered not to make any contact with any witnesses, or even potential witnesses, and were ordered to stay far away from the police stations where they served.
Outside the court, Booth expressed dismay at the length of time it had taken to secure their bail – the two spent 23 days in custody – arguing that the magistrate had ruled as he had always suspected, that the State had no grounds to deny them bail.
Magistrate Magutywa ruled that Booth had successfully cross-examined police investigator Faeez Philip to the point that Philip had had to admit that the State actually had no grounds to deny bail.
Booth also decried the fact that he had had to gain a court order t o be g ranted access to police documents detailing the two’s alle ged crimes – without which he would not have been able to apply for their release.
Pikini was represented by attorney Zukisani Bobotyana, whose sur name was erroneously entered on the charge sheet as “Bobejaan”.