R100m heist accused free for a new life
"I can't wait to return home as soon as I get my life in order to eventually become a soldier again. "
These were the words of a clearly relieved Namibian national, Uakareraije Maunda, after he was given a suspended sentence in the Johannesburg High Court on Friday.
This was after he was convicted on a charge of being an accessory to robbery in a daring R100-million heist at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in 2006.
In March 2006, an armed gang of about 24 men held up guards and police on board a South African Airways plane at the airport and stole bags of money which had been flown in from the United Kingdom.
Maunda was one of the nine people who were later arrested and convicted for the much publicised heist. He was found in possession of $19,000 of the stolen millions of cash.
Maude claimed the money was given to him by his late uncle, Tjinduda Uakotoka, who had been arrested for the robbery but died soon afterwards.
A former Koevoet soldier, Maunda has been awaiting trial since 2006.
Judge Nico Coetzee found Maunda guilty of being an accessory to robbery but gave the lanky Namibian a five-year suspended sentence.
"As a former Koevoet soldier, I'm going back to Namibia to protect Iraqis against Taliban insurgents," he said.
"It was tough being in jail and I don't want to see myself there ever again."
He was charged with Cecil Arendse, Christopher Billings, Fox Sithole and Eddie Ubisi, among others.
Only Arendse was acquitted on all charges, while Billings, who was the heist mastermind, was sentenced to 22 years in jail.
Gareth Koen of Wits Justice Project, which investigates miscarriages of justice, said Maunda had served six years on a charge which only carries a sentence of five years, making him the longest-held remand detainee at Johannesburg Prison.