16 November 2020
Australian venture capitalist Mark Caruso is facing criminal charges in his home country of assault and aggravated home burglary. An attempt to keep details of his court appearances secret by means of a suppression order has failed.
In Australia such an order makes it a serious offence to publish or otherwise reveal any details about a case or to identify the accused in any way, including the accused’s name, image, address and the charges.
Caruso is suing South African lawyers and environmental activists for millions of rands in what is widely considered a SLAPP suit relating to his company’s mining operations in South Africa.
In Australia he faces three charges – two of common assault and one of aggravated home burglary. According to the country’s justice department on-line court portal, Caruso had in mid-October not yet entered a plea in respect of these three charges which all fall under a single indictment.
Caruso was also due back in the same court on 5 November, in connection with a separate charge of “without lawful excuse trespassing on a place”, apparently stemming from the same incident. He had already entered a plea of not guilty to this charge, which has a different indictment number.
Yet when he appeared at the 13 October hearing, his lawyer successfully applied for a month-long interim suppression order, despite an attempt to oppose this by a West Australian newspaper journalist who was in the court.
The media was not even allowed to report that an interim suppression order had been granted. All details of Caruso’s case were then removed from the on-line court portal.
On Monday this interim suppression order was lifted after the prosecutor had argued that Caruso, who was not present, had not pursued the issue.
Jamie Freestone, media and public liaison manager for Western Australian courts, confirmed to GroundUp that Caruso and his new legal representative had not appeared at Monday’s hearing.
“The suppression order was lifted as the application was not pursued by the defence… and it was adjourned to 4 December for mention,” he said. (“Mention” is an Australian legal term for a routine or procedural appearance, he explained – “There can be several mention dates as a matter progresses before pleas are entered and it moves to sentencing or a trial”.)
In an October statement posted by Caruso’s mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (commonly referred to as MRC), the charges stemmed from “an alleged incident which occurred whilst Mr Caruso was assisting a friend in enforcing an abandonment order and a subsequent property seizure and delivery order at that friend’s premises” in May.
Neale Prior of Perth-based The West Australian newspaper reported on Monday that Caruso failed to overturn a bail condition barring him from contacting the alleged victims of what was described as “an eviction gone wrong”.
Caruso has stepped down temporarily as chairman of the MRC board but is continuing to act as chief executive officer.