robbery case setback

Simon Nare

Simon Nare

The case involving the biggest robbery in the country - the estimated R65million airport heist - is in jeopardy.

This is because a secondary case relating to the theft of part of the millions of rands recovered from the alleged robbers has been provisionally withdrawn.

Police say a key witness has gone missing from a witness protection programme. Two others, including a policeman, have been killed.

On March 25 2006 armed robbers made off with millions in foreign currency after overpowering guards on an SAA plane that had just landed at OR Tambo International Airport. An estimated R65million was stolen.

Police are refusing to say how much money was recovered during investigations and subsequent arrests.

The recovered money had been placed in a safe in the evidence room of Benoni police station. It was stolen from the police and five people - three of them police officers - were arrested.

Police arrested more than 20 other people in connection with the original OR Tambo Airport heist

Fifteen people are due to stand trial in the Johannesburg high court in July for that incident.

Most of the suspects were allegedly found in possession of part or their share of the loot.

The puzzling factor is what happened to the recovered money after it was stolen from Benoni police station and what happened to the people involved.

Three police officers and two other people were arrested over the theft.

The money had been placed in a safe in the investigations room of the serious and violent crimes unit on the ground floor of the police station. The five have appeared several times in the Kempton Park magistrate's court.

Two of the officers who were arrested in connection with the theft worked for the unit.

However, the case cannot go ahead because two key witnesses, one a police officer, have been murdered and the third has disappeared from a witness protection programme.

Police spokesman Superintendent Eugene Opperman said yesterday the case had been temporarily withdrawn until the witness can be located.

The witness disappeared during investigations in 2006.

Two other witnesses, one a police officer, have since been killed.

Inspector Khomani Mashele, 40, who was arrested in connection with the theft and had apparently turned state witness, was gunned down at his Norkem Park home.

Solomon Nengwane, 53, who was suspected of having information about the station burglary, was gunned down in an apparent hit.

Inspector Serious Mthembu, 38, Sergeant Khomisani Mashele, 40, and Sergeant Paul Kgoedi, 41, along with Richard Sibiya, 38, and Samson Baloyi, 28, had appeared in a magistrate's court in June 2006 in connection with the theft.

The accused have in the meantime been released as the case has been put on ice.

"We cannot keep them because the case has been temporarily withdrawn," said Opperman.

Meanwhile, 15 people, including two women, appeared in court on Monday and had their case postponed to July 28.

The state alleges that the accused received information about an aircraft that would arrive at the airport carrying millions of rands in cash, months before the robbery.

Sean Soobramoney, 33, Nazir Ishmail, 40, Rokaaya Ebrahim, 37, Magdalena Moonsammy, 26, Themba Phititsi, 34, Ananias Nepfumembe, 39, Tijuanda Uakotela, 37, Christopher Billings, 39, Fox Sithole, 31, Thokozani Ziqubu, 35, Tebogo Nhlapo, 31, Vusi Ndlangala, 50, Uakere Maunda, 35, Msikize Magwaza, 35, Vusi Khumalo, 33, allegedly met regularly to plan the robbery.

Magwaza and Khumalo were arrested in Musina hours after the robbery.

Opperman declined to say how the withdrawal of the secondary case could affect the trial of the 15.