National task team to probe Pakistani ‘mafia’

2008-05-13 00:00

Pietermaritzburg police have joined forces with a national project team established to investigate the activities of a Pakistani crime syndicate operating in this country.

Its crimes allegedly include murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and extortion.

The so-called “Pakistani mafia” was the subject of M-Net actuality programme Carte Blanche broadcast on Sunday.

Inspector Frans Bezuidenhout said yesterday he has been appointed as the local co-ordinator to liaise with the national project team.

He gave this evidence while opposing the bail application of four Pakistani nationals living in Pietermaritzburg — Afsal Hishna (24) and the three Cheema brothers, Atif (28), Azhar Shamim (24) and Sajid (25).

The four are charged with housebreaking and robbery. It is alleged that they broke into the home of a fellow Pakistani Arshid Mohamed on March 30 and stole R13 000 and a cellphone.

Bezuidenhout told magistrate Kgomotsa Kgaile he investigated a number of crimes in which the four men were implicated from January 2007.

According to information, the four always operated as a group. He said Hishna and Atif Cheema are allegedly key roleplayers in criminal acts, while the other two Cheemas allegedly play a low-key role.

Some alleged victims of the accused said they were threatened with physical harm or with harm to their families in Pakistan if they proceeded with cases.

Hishna and Atif Cheema are currently co-accused (along with Husaan Ghaus) in another case, the kidnapping of Jared Iqbal in Bulwer Street last year. Iqbal was allegedly locked in a room for two weeks, and robbed of R20 000 cash, airtime vouchers and cellphones. The pair are charged with extortion for allegedly threatening to shoot and kill Iqbal in a bid to attempt to force him to sign over his business to them.

Bezuidenhout said two cases in which the four accused were implicated — one involving 13 counts of armed robbery and another Himeville case involving four kidnapping charges — were provisionally withdrawn when the complainants could not be traced. However, recently these complainants were found and it is likely the cases will be reinstated on the court roll, he said.

Bezuidenhout said he fears the accused will abscond if given bail. Hishna admitted to him that he entered SA “under a fence” from Mozambique, and was unable to produce a passport, claiming he was “robbed”. An asylum seeker’s permit he produced is still being checked.

Atif and Azhar Cheema are married to South African citizens and have children here, he said.

Bezuidenhout said he is still investigating whether all four are legitimately in this country, but agreed under cross-examination by defence advocate Martin Krog that he currently has to accept that “on paper” they are legally resident here.

Bezuidenhout said he knows Hishna laid an assault charge against members of the SAPS for an alleged assault at Loop Street Police Station after his arrest in the present case, but said he, Bezuidenhout, was not involved and has no knowledge of it.

He also agreed that when granted bail previously, the accused did not abscond, but said the situation is different now that they are aware of the charges they might face.

A ruling is expected this morning.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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