Victims threatened with death if they did not comply, court told
Sordid details of how controversial Nigerian pastor Tim Omotoso and his “henchwomen” allegedly lured girls as young as 13 into “boyfriend and girlfriend” relationships with him were revealed in court yesterday.
Testifying for the second day of Omotoso’s formal bail application in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court, Hawks investigating officer Peter Plaatjies said the young teens were targeted because of their backgrounds – most came from broken homes and were considered vulnerable.
He said senior women members of the church would recruit the girls, aged between 13 and 15, from various branches of the church across the country and allegedly lure them into performing sex acts on the 58-year-old father of three.
The recruits would be taken to the church’s mission house in Durban and coerced by the henchwomen “to comply with what the pastor wants”.
“These women have a hold over the girls. They bought them flight tickets and [provided] accommodation,” he said.
Plaatjies painted a dark picture of how the girls’ first encounter with Omotoso would play out.
He would first speak to them and ask what they wanted from him.
“Most of these girls lack a father figure … as soon as they say they want him as a spiritual father [he would say] that’s incorrect and not what he wanted to hear,” Plaatjies said, adding that Omotoso would allegedly tell them he wanted a “boyfriend and girlfriend” relationship with them.
The girls were threatened that if they spoke out they would die or something would happen to their families.
Plaatjies said Omotoso ruled the Jesus Dominion International Church with an iron fist, with allegations of threats on congregants’ lives from the moment they entered the church, including threats against a group of four young men who wanted to expose him.
“[Omotoso] makes it clear to the congregants and the victims that whatever he says is [the] rule,” he said.
Plaatjies told the court that since the Hawks started their investigation in January, 13 complainants had come forward, with an additional 12 still to give their statements.
On one occasion, when the Hawks were in Bloemfontein in a foiled attempt to arrest Omotoso, detectives who were responding to a tip-off that Omotoso was staying at a resort outside town, were told that several rooms had been booked at the establishment, with “20 girls running half-naked from their room to his”.
There was added drama during the bail application yesterday when Omotoso’s wife, Taiwo, 51 – who was in court to support her husband – was almost kicked out of the courtroom when her cellphone rang.
Magistrate Thandeka Mashiyi told a court orderly to escort her out, but when it emerged who she was, she was allowed to stay.
However, she had to surrender her two cellphones to the defence team until court adjourned.
Plaatjies also said a former pastor of the church had told the Hawks that Omotoso allegedly obtained a fraudulent work permit from a Home Affairs official in 2000.
But the specialised crime fighting unit was unable to confirm this as they were still not in possession of Omotoso’s two Nigerian passports.
Telling Mashiyi that Home Affairs officials refused to run a scan on Omotoso’s photocopied passports to determine his legal status in South Africa, Plaatjies said the Hawks would continue pursuing the probe.
After the state, led by prosecutor Nceba Ntelwa, finished questioning Plaatjies, Omotoso’s defence, led by Advocate Alfonso Hattingh, tore into Plaatjies’s evidence.
Hattingh said there was no proof to the claim that Omotoso had been arrested for fraud in the UK and deported to South Africa after European authorities found his travel documents to be falsified.
He also questioned Plaatjies on the legality of Omotoso’s arrest in Port Elizabeth after the detective admitted the Hawks did not have a warrant of arrest.
Plaatjies said what had happened during the foiled arrest attempt in Bloemfontein had led the Hawks to believe they had reasonable grounds to arrest Omotoso when he landed at the Port Elizabeth Airport.
“We needed the upper hand,” he said, explaining that he had been concerned Omotoso would be tipped off again.
National Hawks spokesman Robert Netshiunda said later that some of the alleged victims who had come forward were in a place of safety while negotiations with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) were under way to help those who wanted to be placed in witness protection.
Netshiunda said the Hawks were busy with investigations into the alleged henchwomen, with arrests imminent.
He also confirmed that the Hawks’ anti-corruption unit was investigating the alleged illegal documents.
“We can’t pre-empt the ongoing investigations – we want to verify documents,” he said.
NPA regional spokesman Tspeo Ndwalaza said any officials suspected of being involved in protecting Omotoso, either by tipping him off about an imminent arrest or protecting him, as alleged by Plaatjies, would be investigated .
The bail application continues today.