R100m OR Tambo Airport heist accused found guilty
SIX of the nine men involved in the 2006 OR Tambo Airport heist were yesterday found guilty in the Johannesburg High Court.
About R100million was stolen in one of the country's most daring heists.
The conviction comes after a trial lasting six years, more than 50 postponements and 57 testimonies from state witnesses.
Two of the convicted men are already serving life terms for unrelated armed robberies, while another is serving 20 years for murder. They committed these crimes while on bail for the airport robbery.
Yesterday the court found Fox Sithole, Eddie Ubisi and Ronny Mbuyisa guilty of attempted robbery, while Ananius Nepfumembe and Thokozani Ziqubu were found guilty of robbery with aggravating circumstances.
Sithole and Ubisi are already serving life in prison for an unrelated armed robbery, while Ziqubu is serving 20 years for murder.
Uakareraije Maundu, who was found in possession of $19000 of the stolen airport money, was found guilty of being an accessory to robbery, while Christopher Billings, who is said to be the mastermind behind the robbery failed to pitch up in court. He was out on bail and a warrant for his arrest was issued.
Late yesterday police said they found and arrested him in Boksburg.
Cecil Arendse, who was accused number 11 in the case, was acquitted and is a free man. Though the suspects were all charged with armed robbery, Judge Nico Coetzee said evidence brought before him showed that not all of them had physically taken part in the robbery.
Three other men implicated in the robbery have died.
The gang colluded with three airport employees, Nazir Ishmael, Sean Soobramoney and Magdeline Moosa, in robbing an international flight carrying foreign currency destined for FNB and Standard Bank. The airport workers turned state's witnesses in return for lenient sentences.
Ishmael, who is serving a 20-year suspended sentence, testified that Billings came to him with the idea of robbing an aircraft. Judge Coetzee dismissed this yesterday, saying Ishmael was not an honest witness.
"The reason why Ishmael agreed to confess was that the state had undertaken that he would be free if he confessed," Coetzee said.
The court heard that after Billings introduced Ishmael to other gang members, Soobramoney, who was to be responsible for providing access cards to the robbers, was roped in while Billings' task was to buy reflector jackets. Soobramoney was the control officer at the airport.
Moosa was airport parking controller and was recruited to ensure the aircraft the gang intended to rob parked close to the exit gate.
The judge said the state had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime. He however denied testimony by the state witnesses that Arendse had been paid R10000 to take part in the robbery, saying "how could he take such a little money while everybody was getting off with millions?"
He said he was impressed with Arendse's testimony and found him not guilty.
Coetzee described Ishmael and Soobramoney as dishonest witnesses who only confessed to get a lighter sentence.
Sentencing was postponed to July 19. - firstname.lastname@example.org