Sordid details of how controversial a Nigerian pastor and his “henchwomen” lured girls as young as 13 into performing sex acts on the 58-year-old father of three were revealed in court on Thursday.
Testifying in court for the second day of the televangelist’s formal bail application in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court‚ detective warrant officer Peter Plaatjies of the Hawks said the young girls were targeted because of their backgrounds – most came from broken homes and were considered vulnerable.
Plaatjies testified during the morning session that senior female members of the church would recruit the girls aged between 13 and 15 from various branches across the country.
The recruits would then be taken to the church’s “mission house” in Durban were they would be coerced by the henchwomen “to comply with what the pastor wants”.
Plaatjies painted a morbid picture of how their first encounter with the pastor would go — he would first speak to them and ask them what they wanted from him.
The girls were threatened that if they spoke out they would die or something would happen to their families.
Plaatjies said the pastor ruled his church with an “iron fist”‚ with allegations of threats on congregants’ lives from the moment they entered the church‚ including a group of four young men who wanted to “expose” him.
“[He] makes it clear to the congregants and the victims that whatever he says is rule‚” he said.
Plaatjies told the court that since the Hawks started their investigations in January‚ 13 complainants had come forward with an additional 12 still to give their statements.
According to national Hawks spokesman Robert Netshiunda some of the victims who had come forward were in a place of safety while negotiations with the National Prosecuting Authority were underway to help those who wanted to be placed in witness protection.
Netshiunda further confirmed that the Hawks were currently busy with investigations into the alleged henchwomen with imminent arrests on the cards.
Meanwhile the pastor’s wife‚ who was in court to support her husband‚ was nearly kicked out of proceedings when her cellphone rang.
Magistrate Thandeka Mashiyi told a court orderly to escort her out the courtroom but when it emerged that she was the wife of the accused she was allowed to stay‚ albeit she had to surrender her two cellphones to the defence team until the court adjourned.
After the state‚ led by prosecutor Nceba Ntelwa‚ finished questioning Plaatjies‚ the pastor’s defence led by advocate Alfonso Hattingh tore into Plaatjies statement‚ punching holes into the information contained in his evidence.
Hattingh said there was no proof that the pastor had been arrested for fraud in the United Kingdom and deported to South Africa after European authorities found his travel documents to be falsified.
Plaatjies testified that a former pastor of the church informed the Hawks that the pastor had obtained a fraudulent work permit‚ allegedly from a home affairs official back in 2000‚ but the specialised crime fighting unit was unable to confirm this as they were still not in the possession of the pastor’s two Nigerian passports.
Explaining to Magistrate Mashiyi that local Home Affairs officials refused to run a scan on the pastor’s photocopied passports to determine his legal status in South Africa‚ Plaatjies said the Hawks would continue pursuing the investigation.
Netshiunda confirmed the Hawks’ anti-corruption unit were busy with the investigation into the alleged illegal documents.
Hattingh further refuted that Plaatjies statement that the pastor did not have a fixed address was inaccurate as the defence was in possession of a rental agreement for a property in Umhlanga.
Plaatjies conceded that the document looked legitimate.
After cross-examination the court was adjourned until Friday to allow the defence to submit responding affidavits and for possible closing arguments. Judgment on the bail application is expected to be handed down next week. – Tiso Black Star Group/HeraldLIVE/Devon Koen