Johannesburg socialite Hazel Crane, shot dead in an assassination on Monday, is reported to have left the country at one stage on account of the death threats she was receiving.
She also reportedly hired 24-hour security to protect herself. On the day she was murdered, however, her bodyguards were mysteriously absent.
This was in spite of the fact that she was on her way to court to attend the Lior Saat proceedings — proceedings she had often attended accompanied by her guards.
Crane was to have testified against Saat (33), accused of murdering her estranged husband Shai Avissar, an alleged kingpin of the so-called Israeli mafia.
While refusing to comment on whether Crane’s bodyguards were paid off, Peter Gastrow, the director of the Cape Town branch of the Institute for Security Studies, said paying off people was common practice among organised crime groups in South Africa.
“Anyone who can be bought to clear the way for criminal activities is bought off, and that includes gardeners, domestics, truck drivers, security personnel, employees in a company, customs officers, border control officers etc, the list is endless,” Gastrow said.
But he said brazen assassinations, such as Crane’s, which occurred in broad daylight in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Abbotsford, could indicate a lack of sophistication on the part of the Israeli criminal groups.
“Organised crime groups tend to go out of their way not to attract the attention of police or the public. They are low profile generally. This assassination was a high-risk action, which is not all that common in organised crime groups.
“It is not advisable from their point of view because it focuses attention on them. Once a story is carried in the media it immediately puts pressure on the police and the investigation inevitably becomes more intense,” Gastrow said.
He said many different approaches had been used in the past by more sophisticated gangs, such as the buying off of investigating officers or magistrates and the sudden disappearance of dockets and of witnesses.
One of the ways to minimise such risks, Gastrow said, was to convince witnesses to go under witness protection.
Witness protection was in fact offered to Crane, but she refused despite the numerous attempts made on her life and despite the previous elimination of two potential witnesses against Saat — Carlo Binne and Julio Bascelli.
Bascelli was shot in the head in a deserted garage in Modderfontein, east of Johannesburg, shortly after Avissar’s murder in October 1999, while Binne was shot dead at the Johannesburg club Gecko Lounge in April 2001.
Meanwhile in May this year, an attempt was made on Crane’s life when a man in an Audi aimed a firearm her Abbotsford house. Crane was unhurt but her neighbour was apparently hit.
On Monday a friend of Crane’s, who was in the car with her when she was murdered, was hit in the hand. The woman, who is also a witness in the Saat case, is currently under police guard in hospital.
Superintendent Chris Wilken refused to comment on the condition of one of the state’s last remaining witnesses. He confirmed that a post-mortem was being carried out on Crane — the third dead witness against Saat — on Wednesday. — Sapa