Fingers have been pointed at "corrupt" cops as the body count in gangland killings mount.
Last week the body count of people with varying degrees of association to Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir rose to at least eight when Bassam “Sam” Issa (49) was shot in what appears to have been an orchestrated hit.
Early on Saturday morning, Issa, a Lebanese national who had been living in South Africa for more than 15 years, was killed in Bedfordview, east of Johannesburg, a few blocks from his home. Of the 30 shots that were fired at his Audi Q7, two were fired at him through his windscreen. He died at the scene.
Forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan has stated that Issa was involved in the supply of drugs to Johannesburg clubs, a claim supported by intelligence sources who spoke to amaBhungane on condition of anonymity.
They said speculation is rife over claims that Issa, who was known in underworld circles as “Cripple Sam” because of his uneven gait caused by a bullet wound, had recently been involved in orchestrating the purchase of a large consignment of cocaine routed via Kenya or Tanzania.
Although details of the deal are sketchy, sources have raised their concern that an issue over payment for the consignment might have led to his murder.
An intelligence source, who described Issa as “an opportunist”, said: “Issa was caught in the middle. In the underworld, the last man who handles the goods carries the bucket and, if something goes wrong, they also kick the bucket.”
The hit is consistent with the outcome of a drug deal gone wrong but it also brings to mind the circumstances of several other as yet unsolved murders that place Issa’s relationship with Krejcir firmly in the spotlight.
Since 2009, at least seven other people with affiliations to Krejcir have been killed, including Teazers boss Lolly Jackson and security consultant Cyril Beeka.
Six feet under
With a growing list of his former associates six feet under, Krejcir is used to distancing himself from their murders.
Issa’s case has been no different.
Following reports that the two knew each other well, Krejcir was quick to deny he had any relationship or had done any business with Issa. On Saturday, Krejcir told Radio 702 that he “didn’t know him [Issa] so well. He was a very private person. Nobody knew what he was doing or who his associates were.”
Since his arrival in South Africa, Krejcir appears to have established a reputation as a high-flyer in
Johannesburg’s underworld, and specifically on the city’s East Rand, including the small community of Bedfordview.
Issa, too, was a well-known figure at the Bedford Centre shopping centre, where Krejcir is a regular.
Friends of the dead man said that the two had been in business together. One source who knew Issa well but asked not to be named said that Issa would meet Krejcir regularly and that Issa had also attended a birthday party hosted by Krejcir.
Krejcir referred amaBhungane to his lawyer, Eddie Classen, who said “Mr Krejcir declines to respond”.
Another intelligence source with an interest in Krejcir’s dealings said that Issa had been involved with Krejcir “for many years, even before Cyril [Beeka] was killed”.
Friends of Issa paint a picture of a party animal who enjoyed all the bells and whistles of living the high life.
Several said he enjoyed “the best things money could buy”, including expensive champagne, which flowed at parties he hosted, where he was surrounded by beautiful women.
Sabina Essa, a model and friend of his, said this week that he loved to socialise and host parties at his house.
She described him as an “extremely passionate and positive person, who was always laughing and joking”.
O’Sullivan, famed for his investigation of convicted former police commissioner Jackie Selebi, has made no secret of his desire to see Krejcir extradited to his native Czech Republic.
Krejcir arrived in South Africa in 2007 from the Seychelles on a passport in the name of Egbert Jules Savy, after he had been on the run from his home country for two years.
He is wanted on various charges, including fraud and kidnapping. He is trying to get refugee status in South Africa. He claims his political adversaries will kill him if he returns home.
O’Sullivan said Issa’s car had been spotted outside Krejcir’s Money Point pawnshop from 8pm on Friday evening, hours before his death. Issa was killed on the road just behind Money Point.
Since his murder, rumours have spread that he had had a falling-out with Krejcir about a month ago over money Issa was allegedly owed.
This could not be verified and neither Krejcir nor his lawyer responded to questions about it.
However tenuous the connection to Krejcir, it underlines the coincidence of his apparent proximity to yet another gangland slaying.
Beeka was killed in a drive-by shooting in Cape Town in March 2011. His name was allegedly found on a hit list during a police raid on Krejcir’s Bedfordview home shortly after Beeka was killed. The two men had set up plans to go into a gold trading and gold refinery business together. But it appears that mistrust developed between them shortly before Beeka was shot.
In another twist, Cape Town gang member Leon “Lyons” Davids, a man allegedly linked to the hit on Beeka, was killed in an apparent gang-related shooting last week.
Beeka’s murder followed the killing of Jackson in May 2010.
Jackson was allegedly shot by Greek Cypriot George Louca, who is currently fighting extradition to South Africa, although Louca denies that he pulled the trigger.
Louca met Krejcir in prison in 2007 after Krejcir had been arrested because of an Interpol red notice. The Greek Cypriot quickly became Krejcir’s alleged “Mr Fix-It” and introduced him to Jackson.
Earlier evidence obtained by O’Sullivan shed light on an alleged money-laundering scheme entered into between Krejcir and Jackson, with Louca as a supposed go-between.
Krejcir and Jackson were also allegedly behind a deal that brought German super-car conversion specialist Uwe Gemballa to South Africa in February 2010 to discuss a business plan with a close Krejcir associate, Jerome Safi. The German disappeared from OR Tambo International Airport and his body was found near Pretoria seven months later. Four men have been charged with Gemballa’s murder but police have yet to catch the masterminds.
Although the police have acted quickly and established a provincial task team to investigate Issa’s murder, several of his friends and associates said they fear the investigation won’t go anywhere owing to the alleged interference of corrupt police. Witnesses claimed that they saw blue police lights on the car carrying the killer as it sped off.
The police confirmed on Wednesday that they are investigating claims that the R-5 rifles and AK47s used in the hit were police issue.
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