Portia Sizani pleads ignorance in R1.2m fraud trial
The defence in the Portia “Pankie” Sizani trial in Port Elizabeth has for the first time indicated what their version would be in the fraud and money laundering trial.
Sizani, the wife of ANC parliamentary chief whip Stone Sizani, is on trial for allegedly creating “ghost” teachers and pocketing their salaries between 2009 and 2010.
She was the coordinator of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme in the department of education, in charge of appointing Grade R teachers.
Her husband, Stone Sizani, was MEC for education in the Eastern Cape until 2002.
Since the beginning of the trial last Monday it had not been clear what the defence’s version in the 31 counts of fraud and money laundering charges would be, as it played its cards close to the chest.
But today, advocate Johan Wessels finally showed his hand.
While cross-examining state witness Xolelwa Tyatyaza, he put it to the witness that his client would deny receiving any money from her.
Tyatyaza maintained that she had given money to Sizani.
The state is alleging that Sizani tricked teachers to “volunteer” in primary schools around Port Elizabeth.
She would then process payments on their behalf – without their knowledge – and when the money was paid to these teachers, she would then call them saying the money had been paid to them by mistake.
She allegedly asked them to withdraw the money and pay it back to her while promising them jobs as teachers in Grade R schools.
Sizani is alleged to have defrauded the department of over R1.2 million.
Defence advocate Wessels also put it to Tyatyaza, who had earlier told the court that she had given her CV to Sizani, that “my client was not aware that the money you are talking about formed part of unlawful proceeds”.
To this, Tyatyaza maintained that she had given the money to Sizani and that the accused knew exactly what she was doing.
“She would further deny that she knowingly got involved in any money laundering scam,” said Wessels, to which Tyatyaza disagreed.
Tyatyaza is the first teacher to testify in the case following testimonies by school principals last week who hired the teachers on the basis that they were volunteers.
The defence also indicated that Portia would take the stand at the “appropriate time” and tell the court that she had processed hundreds of applications for Grade R schools and that she was but one of a chain of people who did so in her department.
The court also heard that when she processed the applications, Sizani did not have any intentions of misleading anybody.
At times the visibly frightened Tyatyaza battled to give straight answers to Wessels, prompting Magistrate Mputumi Mpofu to ask her to listen to the questions carefully and answer what she had been asked.
Sizani looked straight at Tyatyaza while she gave testimony, showing little emotion and often leaning on her back while listening to proceedings.
The trial continues tomorrow.