Najwa’s new star lawyer ‘double-booked’ for trial dramas

The Argus

Reporter: Ella Smook

Najwa Petersen’s latest heavy-weight lawyer appears to have made a high-profile double-booking in taking on the case. Senior advocate Johann Engelbrecht assured the Cape High Court yesterday that he would be ready to proceed when the Taliep Petersen murder trial resumes on July 28. But on the same day he is also due in the Pretoria High Court, where he is defending Cezanne Visser, aka “Advocate Barbie”, in her sensational trial on sex charges. Visser has pleaded not guilty to 15 child-sex charges, including rape, indecent assault and the manufacture of child pornography. Engelbrecht’s instructing attorney in the Petersen trial, Reaz Khan, could not be reached for comment on the apparent clash. In the Cape High Court yesterday, Judge Siraj Desai reluctantly allowed the postponedment after Petersen, accused of masterminding the murder of her husband, lost the services of a third advocate because of a “lack of funds”. Judge Desai placed it on record that any further change in legal representation by Petersen, or “other conduct which may undermine the smooth functioning” of the trial court, would leave Petersen having to conduct her own defence and “face the consequences”. The State opposed the lengthy postponement, saying that the court could not continue indulging “the whims of one accused” whose hiring and firing of senior counsel seemed to have become “a pattern”. Counsel for Abdoer Raasiet Emjedi, Waheed Hassen and Jefferson Snyders also indicated that they were unhappy with the postponement. Hassen and Snyders said they would object if Petersen changed counsel for a firth time. Judge Desai questioned how, if Petersen’s previous advocate, Klaus von Lieres und Wilkau, had withdrawn because of a “lack of funds”, she could afford to appoint new senior counsel. Engelbrecht replied that the withdrawal of Von Lieres was not simply a financial matter, but would not give further details about an implied breakdown in the relationship between Petersen and her former advocate. Engelrecht has starred in a number of high-profile cases in recent years. He represented Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader Eugene Terre’blanche. He appeared for the State against Scorpions prosecutor Gerrie Nel; for Pieter Viljoen, who was charged with the murder of his pregnant wife; and for Mark Scott-Crossley, who was convicted in the case of a labourer “thrown to the lions”. Engelbrecht said that with his appointment, Petersen had finally “succeeded in obtaining senior counsel of her choice”. Judge Desai slammed the actions of Petersen, saying they had caused the disruption of court rolls and were a grave prejudice to her co-accused, the family of the victim and the criminal justice system as a whole. He said he was getting the impression that Petersen was employing a “stratagem to gain a tactical advantage” and that such actions warranted the attention of roleplayers in the legal system. Petersen, Emjedi, Hassen and Snyders have been in custody since last June and have pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy to murder and other charges related to the slaying of Taliep Petersen.