How a rapist was caught

Hans Joachim Klaar has spent most of the past 11 years on the high seas, fleeing from justice.

Accused of raping a Pietermaritzburg woman in 1996, the Swiss national was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment by a Durban magistrate in December 1998.

Klaar appealed to the Pietermaritzburg High Court and in August 1999 his sentence was reduced to three years, with a further three years suspended.

But when the court ordered Klaar to hand himself over, on September 28 1999, law enforcement agents found he had slipped away from the KwaZulu-Natal coast on his distinctive crab-claw-rigged catamaran, the Rapa Nui.

Despite being flagged by an Interpol red notice as a fugitive, Klaar was able to sell the Rapa Nui in New Zealand in 2005. He built a new vessel, the Polynesian-style catamaran, Ontong Java, in West Africa in 2007.

According to an online interview Klaar gave to fellow catamaran enthusiast James Baldwin Klaar had docked in Angola, Trinidad, New Zealand, Brazil, Panama and Fiji during the past six years, before the law finally caught up with him.

Klaar was arrested by the New Zealand authorities in December 2009, after they intercepted the Ontong Java in the northeastern port of Opua. Another catamaran enthusiast’s interest in the Ontong Java‘s progress across the Pacific may have played into Interpol’s hands.

James Wharram’s website ­published a series of email updates received from Klaar, the last of which, sent from Fiji, reads: “Will hang out here two months, then carry on to New Zealand, maybe tie the boat up and fly to Switserland [sic], it’s time to go home I feel, if only to get sick of the place again.”

Klaar never made it to Switzerland. Instead, South Africa applied for his extradition and, in September last year, an Auckland district court granted the request.

Klaar was escorted back to South Africa on Friday last week by the police and handed over to the department of correctional services to begin serving his sentence.

McIntosh Polela, a SAPS spokesperson, said it was too soon to know whether the duration of Klaar’s three-year sentence still applied, or whether it would be increased.

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Lionel Faull
Lionel Faull
Lionel is a reporter at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism, Amabhungane.

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