I’m innocent, says Marais


‘Oom’ Dries appears for theft of railway tracks, sleepers

NOTORIOUS crook “Oom” Dries Marais said he was “entirely innocent” of the latest fraud allegations levelled against him in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court.

Marais said it would be his pleasure to give a plea explanation and that he had willingly chosen to represent himself.

The 75-year-old was brought to Port Elizabeth from a prison in Bellville yesterday, where he is serving an eight-year sentence for selling fixed property that did not belong to him.

In the latest case before the Port Elizabeth court, it is alleged that between July and September 2008, he stole railway tracks and sleepers in the Steynsburg area worth about R2.7-million.

He allegedly forged a letter from Transnet stating he had permission to remove the goods and then hired companies to dismantle, lift and transport the material to the Western Cape.

Marais is accused alongside Transnet security guard Bhuyekiso Damane, 52.

It is alleged Dumane, who was stationed in Queenstown at the time, helped forge the letter purporting that Marais had permission to remove the railway tracks and sleepers.

As the long-awaited trial got off to a slow start yesterday, Dumane pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud, while Marais pleaded not guilty to charges including forgery, theft, fraud, attempting to defeat the ends of justice, perjury and uttering.

Questioned by state advocate Lionel Kroon, Willem Pretorius, of the police digital forensic laboratory in East London, said they had managed to recover deleted e-mails pivotal to the state’s case.

Pretorius, who did not comment on the content of the e-mails, said hundreds of exchanges between Dumane and other role-players were recovered from two hard drives belonging to Transnet.

The alleged scam came to light in August 2008 when a truck transporting some of the railway tracks and sleepers was stopped en route.

The driver showed police the “forged” letter giving him permission to transport the goods and was initially allowed to continue on his journey.

But, sometime later, after becoming aware of Marais’s alleged activities, lawyers for Transnet wrote to Marais asking him to stop.

Marais instructed his lawyers to respond and even sent them the “forged” letter as proof that what he was doing was legal.

Transnet later approached the court for an interdict.

Marais’s run-ins with the law date back almost 40 years.

The trial continues today.

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