Swift World Cup justice

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pretoria - The 2010 FIFA World Cup has seen visitors and locals alike grabbing headlines not just for their extraordinary experiences at World Cup stadia and tourist attraction sites, but for making regular appearances in the country's dedicated World Cup courts, writes Irene Naidoo.

Stolen match tickets, ambush marketing, trespassing and the more serious offences of assault and culpable homicide have landed foreign visitors in the country's courts.

From the Dutch to Nigerians, British to Australians, they have all appeared in the dock of a specialised World Cup court.

According to the Justice Department, 42 foreign nationals have been charged with crimes related to the World Cup but South Africans still out number them with 67 locals having being charged.

Visitors to the country who have experienced the long arm of South African law so far include Englishman Pavlos Joseph.

Joseph's stroll into the English team's dressing room after their match with Algeria, which ended in a draw, has led to a World Cup experience he is unlikely to forget.

Two days after he entered the dressing room and made the players aware of his disappointment with their performance, police tracked Joseph down to a Cape Town hotel where he was staying. He was arrested and charged with trespassing.

He was released on R500 bail but his passport was taken away and he will not be allowed to attend away matches until the case is finalised. He is expected back in court on Friday (25 June).

Nigerian Kunle Benjamin is learning the hard way about the swiftness and effectiveness of the South African justice system.

Benjamin was stopped by police after they spotted him driving erratically through the streets of Pretoria

The police's National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) said Benjamin was behaving suspiciously so police searched him and found 30 World Cup tickets in his possession.

When police checked the tickets with FIFA's ticketing office, it was discovered that the tickets were bought by two men over the internet and their addresses could not be verified.

According to police, when Benjamin appeared in court he could not give the magistrate a "satisfactory explanation" for being in possession of the tickets.

He was convicted on a charge of possessing stolen property and sentenced to three years imprisonment without the option of a fine.

It was a happier ending for two Dutch women, who breathed sighs of relief on Tuesday (22 June), when the charges against them, which related to ambush marketing, were dropped.

It was orange mini dresses that landed Barbara Castelein and Mirthe Nieuwpoort on the wrong side of the law.

They were arrested after the match between the Netherlands and Denmark for wearing orange dresses associated with Dutch brewery Bavaria.

After the two women were charged and released on R10 000 bail each, FIFA and Bavaria reached an out-of-court settlement.

The National Prosecuting Authority then decided to withdraw the charges against Castelein and Nieuwepoort.

In one of the more serious cases before the court, a 24-year-old British man has been charged with culpable homicide after he was involved in a car accident in which one person died.

According to police, the man allegedly made a U-turn on the N1 in Bloemfontein when he and friends got lost after the Slovakia, Paraguay match.

He then collided with a vehicle on the oncoming lane. The driver of that vehicle died at the scene of the accident.

The British man was released on R1 000 bail and was expected back in court on Thursday (24 June).

In Port Elizabeth, an Australian and Nigerian were convicted for assaulting a South African man during a fight at a pub.

The Australian fan was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment or a fine of R10 000 while the Nigerian was sentenced to nine months imprisonment or a fine of R5 000.

The specialised World Cup courts have been busy since opening on 28 May and by 20 June had already heard 80 cases.

Department of Justice spokesman Tlali Tlali said most of the cases, 39 percent of them, were in Gauteng, while 22 percent were in the Western Cape.

Prosecutors and magistrates have been hard at work at the courts, with more than half of the cases finalised. Thirty-two cases are still outstanding.

There have been 36 convictions so far - 42 percent of them in Gauteng and 17 percent in the Western Cape.

Theft was the most common crime the courts were dealing with, Tlali said.

"Theft accounts for 40 percent of the crimes committed. Fraud follows a distant second at 6.25 percent. Assault, common robbery and malicious damage to property are all sitting at 3.7 percent each," he added.

The South African government has set up 56 courts across the country, specifically to deal with World Cup related crimes.