Playwright and director Welcome Msomi allegedly went on a 19-day withdrawal spree as he emptied R8m in the Living Legends Trust account.
Msomi was denied bail yesterday at the South Gauteng High Court sitting at Palm Ridge magistrate’s court on the East Rand and according to the charge sheet, he allegedly transferred the money from the trust account to his bank account in 61 withdrawals ranging from a mere R40 to R350,000 at a time.
He was arrested three weeks ago at a hotel in Durban and faces 61 counts of theft. The splurge started on September 18, the day the money was transferred into the trust account from the department of arts and culture. On the first day, Msomi is accused of taking out amounts of R43,300, R65,000 and R65,000.
The following day, he allegedly withdrew R434,500. He apparently continued his streak until October 24.
It was on September 26 that he is said to have gone on an overdrive, making 10 withdrawals totalling R1.2m. The following day he allegedly continued where he had left off, taking out R950, 000.
The details of how Msomi, who wrote the iconic play Umabatha, apparently tricked the checks and balances of the trust fund withdrawals that needed three signatories have not been explained yet. This was his third application for bail at the court. Msomi, who cut a sad figure – looking frail and dark – argued that he was on diabetes medication and had a blood clot in his leg. He smiled and seldom shook his head.
His lawyer, Benito Mangolele, stated that Msomi owned a house in Umlazi, Durban, and his sister lived there.
He further declared that he owned shares that were worth R25m in the US and locally and a title deed of the house he claimed to own in Umlazi. “My client is a well-known person and he is 76 years old. He will never run away. He is not well and will not survive in jail. I ask the state to give him R5,000 bail.”
The state opposed bail on the grounds that he was a flight risk because he did not have a verifiable physical address. Prosecutor France Mhlongo argued that Msomi left Joburg and went to Durban knowing that police were looking for him. He further checked himself in two hotels using fake names, which he disputed through his lawyer.
Investigating officer Cons Nobuhle Sibiya testified that Msomi did not own any movable and immovable assets such as a car or house, according to their investigation. She further said since he did not have a place of residence it was going to be difficult for her to track him down. Msomi has provided police with four physical addresses.
“The address he provided – a house owned by his son – will no longer be available for him since the son wants nothing to do with him. “Secondly, when I left the message for him to call me back he never did.
“The security guard where Msomi stayed, in Illovo, told me that he instructed them to refuse police entry and never tell the police his whereabouts,” said Sibiya.
Mhlongo argued that Msomi had more to live for outside the country than locally. He explained that the fact of not receiving proper medication in jail should be weighed against other issues.
“There is nothing binding Msomi to stay in SA once he is out on bail … looking at the magnitude of the case. Yes, we know he is old,” said Mhlongo. “But he is where he is because of his own doing. He should have known better.”
Judge Phillips Venter withheld the decision pending a verification of Msomi’s physical address by the state and submission of a proof of residence.