/ 26 August 2008

Stiff sentences in cigarette hijack case

Two masterminds of a series of hijackings of cigarette vehicles belonging to British American Tobacco were on Tuesday slapped with lengthy jail terms by the Cape High Court.

Brothers Selwyn and Virgil de Vries were jailed for 30 and 20 years respectively.

Selwyn (42) of Gauteng was jailed on charges of racketeering, aggravated armed robbery, attempted murder, the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition, money-laundering and kidnapping.

Virgil (32) was jailed for racketeering, aggravated armed robbery, kidnapping, money-laundering, and the illegal possession of a firearm.

They were in the dock before Judge Lee Bozalek and assessors, together with six co-accused whose jail sentences ranged from five to 20 years.

The hearing was a sequel to two hijackings in the Western Cape and one in the Eastern Cape, when the gang used a stolen car with a blue light attached to the roof to stage police ”roadblocks”.

Two of the gang, Vernon Victor and Gary Williams, were dressed as traffic officers.

Victor was jailed for 18 years, Williams for six years.

Bozalek said Selwyn de Vries had already been sentenced to 30 years for an armed robbery carried out in Heidelberg, Gauteng, and had been out on bail pending the outcome of an appeal, when he organised the BAT hijackings.

Another accused, Johannesburg businessman Achmat Mather received a lighter sentence for buying and selling the stolen cigarettes. He was jailed for five years for racketeering, money-laundering and the theft of cigarettes.

The judge said although he was not directly involved in the hijackings, and may not even have known about them, he must have known that the cigarettes had been illegally obtained.

Mather’s bail was extended while he launched an application for leave to appeal both his conviction and sentence.

Others involved in the hijacking were Julian van Heerden, jailed for 20 years for armed robbery and kidnappings, as well as involvement in gang activities. Llewellyn Smith was jailed for 17 years on charges of armed robbery, car theft, kidnapping and attempted murder. The eighth man, Francis Ngarinoma (40) was jailed for 13 years on charges of armed robbery. – Sapa