23 men convicted for military style robberies

2015-12-16 09:40
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Pietermaritzburg - Three KwaZulu-Natal judges onTesday confirmed the convictions of 23 men for “military” style ambushes of two cash-in-transit vehicles on the N2 highway in northern KZN in 2006.

However, due to the acquittal of all the accused on a murder charge, the appeal court set aside sentences of life imprisonment imposed on them, and sentenced each instead to effective 25-year jail terms.

The notorious gang became known as the “KZN 26” because 26 men originally stood trial on a total of 31 related charges.

During the trial which was held in Pongola, one man, Bhekinkosi Kunene was acquitted, and another, Lebohang Mothepu, died.

In a 100-page long reserved judgment handed down yesterday the full bench found that a third accused, Johannes Langa, ought also to have been acquitted of all the charges as there was insufficient evidence linking him to the various crimes.

Judge Pete Koen, who sat with KZN Judge President Achmat Jappie and Judge Gregory Kruger, confirmed the convictions of the remaining 23 men with regard to the “main robberies” that occurred on October 2, 2006.

The robbers struck in two separate ­incidents that occurred almost simultaneously 35 kilometres apart on the N2 at Charters Creek turnoff near Mtubatuba and at Penicuik turnoff near Kwa­mbonambi.

In each case Fidelity vehicles were rammed by luxury cars and pushed off the road and overturned. The occupants were threatened with assault rifles and hand guns.

Judge Koen said although the individual accused could not physically have carried out the crimes at Charters and and Penicuik at the same time, it was clear their common purpose was to rob the Fidelity vehicles, and all of them were equally guilty of both incidents involving aggravating circumstances.

At Penicuik the gang was unable to penetrate the vehicle, resulting in convictions of attempted robbery with aggravating circumstances.

At Charters the attackers escaped with R1,6 million.

“These two crimes were planned and executed with military precision and ruthlessness to satisfy their personal greed,” said the judge.

He said the court would be failing in its duty if it did not punish the accused severely for these crimes. All of them were employed and or conducted private businesses before committing the offences, he said.

“They did not show remorse and there is nothing to point to them being candidates for rehabilitation.”

Finding the accused not guilty on a number of other so-called “secondary offences” including the murder of Maxim security guard Theminkosi Gumede “near Penicuik”, the full bench ruled that the trial court had been wrong to find that the prior agreement (or common purpose) between the gang members to rob the Fidelity vehicles also extended to the actions of individual gang members in their “panic” to get away. Where the events happened away from the primary scenes and were the result of unforeseen events, the accused should get the benefit of the doubt.

The appeal court confirmed the convictions of all the accused for attempted robbery with aggravating circumstances at Penicuik as well as the related attempted murders of crew members Wiseboy Ngwane and Graham Thring.

They also confirmed their convictions for robbery with aggravating circumstances at Charters Creek, along with the attempted murders of the occupants of the Fidelity vehicle, Bheki Mnqayi and Sipho Mnguni.

The full bench also confirmed the convictions of each of the accused for the attempted murders of police Constable Thulani Biyela, Inspector Etwell Khoza, and Constable Mbuso Mthethwa near Charters Creek.

According to the evidence, the policemen were shot at a stopper point set up to halt traffic along the N2 which could interfere with the robbery in progress at the time at Charters.

They were lucky to escape with their lives, said Judge Koen.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime  |  court

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