Bail denied to nine airport-heist accused

The Kempton Park regional court on Friday refused bail to nine people arrested following a massive heist at Johannesburg International airport last month. Magistrate Eric Mhlari said there was a danger of their interfering with witnesses as certain of them could face lengthy jail terms if convicted, and another 15 suspects were still on the run.


He said circumstances justifying bail, which the defence team submitted were exceptional, were not so. Medical conditions had to be more life-threatening than those presented, said Mhlari.


The court heard that Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) operations manager Nazir Ismail (38) had cancer.
The magistrate, however, said it was not terminal.


Acsa duty manager Rookaya Ebrahim’s urinary problems and security guard Themba Cornelius Phutsitsi’s (33) alleged assault by police also did not amount exceptional circumstances.


Mhlari pointed out that another Acsa employee, Sean Soobramoney (32), as well as Ebrahim and Ismail had not offered any explanation as to how they had come to be in possession of large amounts of foreign exchange.


The magistrate said a further Acsa employee, Magdalena Moonsamy (24), appeared to have deliberately directed the aircraft that was robbed to a parking bay with inadequate surveillance. Mhlari said Mzikize Maqwaza Mali (24) and Vusimuzi Khumelo (32) were flight risks. They had been arrested at the Beit Bridge border post with Zimbabwe carrying invalid identity documents.


The court also heard that Annanius Nepfumbe (38), along with Phutsitsi, had swapped their roles as security guards and joined the robbery, loading cash into a getaway vehicle.


Danisa Nee Tsuma, found with R8 553 in a vehicle, claimed not to know where an additional $100 000 found hidden in the car came from. He was arrested along with Bhekithembo Khumalo, who has died since his arrest.


“It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to monitor that the accused must not communicate with those on the run,” said Mhlari.


Police are seeking a further 15 suspects. Some are believed to be in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.


He added that it was clear that the robbery had been carefully planned.


“It must have involved prior conspiracy. It cannot be a coincidence that 25 people are so organised, divided into groups of riflemen, drivers of getaway cars and people cutting fences [who] emerged simultaneously, immediately when the aircraft arrived.”


Relatives of the accused sobbed quietly as they left the court, as did some of those in the dock.—Sapa

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