A KEY police witness suffered a suspected heart attack and collapsed yesterday while testifying in the Knysna Circuit Court trial of six men accused in South Africa’s biggest drug bust.
Warrant Officer Johann Burmeister fell down in the witness box while answering questions about an affidavit he made under oath, implicating the accused in the possession of 1,7 tons of pure cocaine found aboard the Toledo fishing boat outside a Knysna waterfront flat on December 10 2010.
Shortly before paramedics arrived to take Burmeister to hospital, Judge Nathan Erasmus said it was apparent that the policeman was under considerable pressure in view of his application for indemnity, made in terms of Section 204 of the Criminal Procedures Act, against possible charges of perjury and defeating the ends of justice.
Prosecutor Helene Booysen has applied for indemnity for Burmeister because the court has heard uncontested evidence that at least one aspect of his affidavit was false.
Burmeister admitted last week he had falsely claimed in his affidavit that he had filmed video footage of the accused packing the Toledo in preparation for a five-day trip to collect the massive haul of cocaine, possibly from a passing ship, but said he had done it to protect the identity of the real cameraman, an informant.
Erasmus has ruled that he can only grant Burmeister indemnity if he finds the policeman’s testimony to be truthful and honest.
Seconds before he collapsed yesterday, Burmeister appeared to flounder under questioning by defence counsel Anthony Broadway as to which day the contentious affidavit had been made.
Broadway said the statement was dated December 10 2010, the day of the bust, but it contained information which Burmeister, by his own admission, could only have obtained later.
Burmeister said he had made the statement on December 11 after spending longer than three hours studying the video footage provided to him by the informant, but added that he was "confused” about other information in the statement which he had apparently only obtained on December 13.
At that point he collapsed in the witness stand.
The accused are Chinese citizens Xing Cuo Chen, 58, Zhi Zhong Liu, 52, and Yu Wei Yau, 30, Cape Town marine engineers Beverley Jones, 47, and Mogamat Adams, 41, and Shaun Packareysammy, 43, of Port Elizabeth. They have pleaded not guilty.