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Advocate in SA first with conviction without complainant

Publish date: 10 February 2020
Issue Number: 859
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa

For two years, an orphaned 16-year-old was held under lock and key by her aunt and cousin and forced into sexual slavery that was live-streamed to thousands of viewers on the Internet. When she finally escaped in 2017 and sought help from the police, her relatives were arrested. But allegations have emerged that after she was put into a place of safety pending the criminal trial, the investigating officer in her case stole money from her, and while he continues to work for the SAPS, she has hasn’t been seen in over a year. In what the Sunday Times describes as a legal first in SA, the prosecutor, Advocate Geo Wassermann, secured a human trafficking conviction despite not having a complainant to testify against her captors. In December the aunt and cousin were given 19 life sentences for numerous charges, including human trafficking and sexual exploitation. During the trial, a document submitted to court by the US Office of Homeland Security investigation team, which was called in because the live-streaming website was hosted in the US, revealed that the investigating officer, who was stationed at child protective services, was allegedly involved in the theft that led the teenager to flee.

An inquiry has been opened against the officer in connection with the allegation of theft, according to police spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo, ‘Attempts were made to locate the complainant and we are still looking for her so that we can obtain her statement as part of the investigation,’ he said. He confirmed the officer was still working at child protective services, notes the Sunday Times report. Meanwhile NPA spokesperson Phindi Louw-Mjonondwane is quoted as saying the organisation was impressed with Wassermann’s work. ‘We are encouraged by the rate at which case law is being developed.’ Criminal law expert James Grant said that securing a conviction in any criminal matter without a complainant was very difficult. ‘I think it’s very rare. Normally a court would need to hear the oral testimony (of a complainant), and while it’s very important, as this case has shown it’s not always essential,’ he said.

Full Sunday Times report (subscription needed)