South Africa-Religion-Court

S/Africa: Bushiri freedom bid flops, another weekend in jail

APA-Pretoria (South Africa)

Malawi-born evangelists of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) Church in Pretoria, Shepherd and Mary Bushiri, were on Friday denied bail as the prosecution asked for more time to prepare a response to the couple’s bail application.

The development meant that the couple, who are accused of fraud, theft and money laundering charges in an alleged elaborate pyramid scheme involving US$6 million, would be spending their second weekend in a Pretoria prison until Monday when they are due to appear in court for their next hearing.

The Bushiris, alongside three others, returned to the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Friday with the aim of securing their freedom, only to see their hopes dashed by the prosecution’s request to postpone the bail application hearing to next week.

During the couple’s initial bail application hearing two weeks ago the state said it opposed granting bail to the preachers who run the ECG church from their Pretoria base for fear of them running away from the country if released.

Defence lawyer Anneline van den Heever, however, argued the couple were not a flight risk, telling the court her clients have been on bail for similar charges for a year without their diplomatic passports which the court took away after the initial arrest last year.

In the current bail application, the Bushiris have argued the state’s charges were vague as the prosecution failed to show how the accused committed the alleged crimes and who the victims were.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Bushiri followers chanted and prayed outside the Pretoria Magistrate Court in support of their leader as the matter was being argued inside.

The couple, who are said to be millionaires, set up the South African branch of the ECG in 2015, and months later had attracted hundreds of thousands of followers whose membership has now reached at least two million worshippers, according to the church’s publicity machine.

NM/jn/APA

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