/ 13 August 2008

Najwa witnesses receive death threats

At least two witnesses called by the state to testify against murder-accused Najwa Petersen have been threatened with death, the Mail & Guardian learned last week.

The M&G was told that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has been roped in to carry out a security assessment of one of the witnesses, while the police have offered witness protection to another.

Mymuna Bedford, a long-term friend of both Petersen and her murdered husband, Taliep, was called in April this year to testify against Petersen, who is standing trial in the Cape High Court charged with ordering the murder of her husband in December 2006.

Bedford testified that Petersen asked her for the telephone number of co-accused Fahiem “Piele” Hendriks, alleged to be the man Petersen ordered to organise the hit on her husband.

Bedford told the M&G she received death threats last week and was sent an SMS message on Thursday this week saying: “Your photo has been taken. You must take care. Watch your back every day — day and night. We know where you live.”

“I fear for my life — I’m really scared. The police have offered me protection, but we’ve employed our own bodyguards. My family is very scared,” Bedford, a business person, said this week.

Bedford, who describes herself as Petersen’s best friend, has known the Petersen family for many years.

“The Dirk [Najwa Petersen’s maiden name] family is known as the diamond and dollars people— everybody on the Cape Flats know that there’s ‘klippies’ [gems] wherever their family is involved. Because there’s big money involved, people are so scared,” one observer told the M&G.

Petersen testified this week that she believes her husband was killed in a botched robbery, claiming that she was connected to accused number two, Hendriks, because he had sold black market diamonds for her.
Bedford refused to speculate on who had threatened her.

A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity this week confirmed that the NIA had been asked to assess the security of forensic psychiatrist Lerissa Panieri-Peter from Valkenburg, who carried out a psychological assessment of Petersen.

Panieri-Peter, called to testify during one of Petersen’s two unsuccessful bail hearings, found she is “not mentally ill”, as her own psychiatrist had determined and that she was fit to stand trial.

Her testimony is widely seen as the main reason Petersen was denied bail. The M&G understands that she has also been threatened. However, she would not confirm this, referring the M&G to the police.

This week the M&G interviewed a former police officer who investigated the Dirk family and their business associates in Namibia and Cape Town two years ago.

The Dirks and the Brenner family are said to own half of the businesses in Osikathi, Namibia. The Dirk family has exported fruit to Namibia for many years while the Brenners, headed by Faizel “Fresh” Brenner, own a transport company.

The ex-policeman claimed that the Dirks had imported Angolan diamonds to South Africa for many years, concealing the gems in fruit to move it through customs.

“They’re very wealthy and own a string of properties on the Flats and in Namibia. They’re a very tight family and run their business like a mafia, with no outsiders,” the policeman said.

Members of the two families are known on the Cape Flats as “Die Wolwe” and “Fresh” Brenner is also considered their leader.

“The tabloids in Cape Town don’t write about Die Wolwe, because journalists have been threatened,” the policeman claimed to the M&G.

The M&G is in possession of documents from the Namibian finance ministry showing that the Dirk family is under investigation in Namibia for tax evasion and that value-added tax credits of Dirk Fruit, the family business, are being withheld by the Namibian receiver of revenue.

According to other documents in possession of the M&G, Taliep Petersen himself was under investigation in Namibia in connection with payments made to Dirk Fruit of N$50-million.