2011-02-05 00:00

GANGSTERLAND, says Eugene Viljoen, is like heroin or cocaine shooting through your veins. You just can’t get enough of it.

Viljoen should know. For four years he walked with Ralph Haynes, known as the “Godfather of the West Rand” and the leader of a criminal syndicate which intimidated, stole and defrauded millions of rands from its victims over two decades.

This week Viljoen lifted the veil on his and Haynes’ criminal underworld in an exclusive interview with Media24 Investigations as police hunt Haynes who mysteriously disappeared two weeks ago following a business deal. Police now say they think he fled to Botswana as they closed in on him with a raft of new criminal charges.

Their world is falling apart now but it used to be different for Viljoen — nicknamed “Little Ralph”.

When he woke up and hung his gold chains around his neck, clipped the diamond-studded Rolex to his arm, snorted a line of cocaine and roared with his Corvette down Voortrekker Way in Krugersdorp, he felt like a king in his own country.

It didn’t matter that the V8 had been stolen and that he was on his way to set up and soften yet another victim. He felt powerful and invincible and never even thought about the possibility that one day he would land behind bars.

That’s why, says the 34-year-old Viljoen, he misses Haynes (47) so much. He was the father he never knew and he all he wanted to do for the four years he worked for him, was to like him. He just aspired to be even more devious and richer.

A “knock” — a theft or fraud — is what they were good at. Viljoen tells of Haynes’ famed black diamond that he used to “knock” millions out of wealthy business people “whose names we will not mention now”.

The dark blue stone was according to Viljoen “a damn good fake”. Haynes had a false valuation certificate that the 2,975 carat stone was worth more than R20 million. They nicknamed the stone “Poetsie” – Afrikaans for prank.

“He would meet a potential buyer and pretends that he had to urgently get rid of the stone. The guy had to pay a deposit and would then take the stone to verify its authenticity and value. When he discovers it’s false, Ralph would pretend that he’s utterly shocked and surprised and take it back, but then refuse to give back the money.

“If the guy wants to go to the police, Ralph threatens him. It’s as easy as that and works time and again.”

Viljoen and Haynes had a fall-out six months ago — he doesn’t want to say exactly why but it was about money — and then he disappeared. He eventually contacted the police and has made a series of affidavits against Haynes.

Viljoen is a state witness is in a series of cases the police are investigating against Haynes. It includes theft, fraud, intimidation and money laundering.

“I know about everything,” says Viljoen. “That’s why Ralph had to make a duck. He knows I can bury him in prison.”

The police have ordered Viljoen to lie low and keep out of trouble. He has moved away from “the riches of the West Rand”. He still wears the diamond-studded Rolex and in the driveway stand a BMW X5.

“I’ve been clean now for six months. No knocks, no naughty things no nothing. I’m a father and have to stop doing crime.”

Haynes’ wife Jackie, described Viljoen as a “despicable low-life” who should “burn in hell”. She says he is a “pathetic little man” who wanted to be a hoodlum and criminal.

Viljoen was born in Bronkhorstspruit and was suspended from school. He says he immediately started “wheeling and dealing”. He was knocking and stealing long before meeting Haynes.

Viljoen was still in his teens when Haynes was already a seasoned criminal. He is one of seventeen children that grew up in a railway house in Randfontein and had to sleep on dirty washing. He left home when he was fifteen and almost immediately entered the underworld.

Haynes was 21 when he and his gang shot dead a security guard with a sub-machine-gun. He and the others were convicted of amongst other things murder and robbery and sentenced to death. Some of the convictions were overturned on appeal and his sentenced lessened.

At the end of the eighties, Haynes was out of prison and again a member of a West Rand gang that included the notorious gangsters Corrie Goosen and Ferdi Barnard.

Barnard was then a member of the SADF’s death squad called the CCB and was already convicted of double murder. Goosen had convictions for robbery and illegal diamond dealing.

Haynes is one of the only surviving members of this gang. Former policeman Eugene Riley was killed with a shotgun in 1992. A second died in 1995 and two years later Goosen was killed when he smashed his Honda Blackbird at a speed of 300 kph.

In 1998, Barnard was convicted of double murder — which included the killing of anti-apartheid activist David Webster in May 1989 — and a host of other crimes.

Haynes continued his crime career in Krugersdorp. By the end of the nineties, he moved into a villa on the mountain in Florida Hills. His cars became bigger and his gold chains heavier. By the early 2000s he was the unmistakable Godfather of West Rand.

Friends in the police saw to it that dockets disappeared and witnesses refused to testify after being intimidated,

Viljoen had known about Haynes and hero-worshipped him from a distance. They only met in the mid-2000s. Viljoen became his confidant and foot soldier in thefts, “knocks”, money-laundering, diamond dealing and, later, also drugs.

“Ralph gave me a Corvette as a present. There was also a Lamborghini and other sports cars. But Ralph had difficulty getting into them so he preferred Mercs.”

Viljoen says Haynes was cold-blooded and thought it was his godly right to knock and steal. “Ralph could talk anyone into a scheme. He could sell ice to an Eskimo.”

But how did these “knocks” work?

Viljoen says Haynes had policemen and lawyers who identified targets — usually people who had a problem “that had to disappear”, were owing money or had large sums owed to them.

“Let’s say there’s someone who is owed money. We would get his number and make an appointment. Ralph would persuade and assure him that we can get him his debt back. Our fee was an eighth of the sum and it had to be paid in advance.”

The two would go and see the debtor and tell him that they have been appointed to collect the money and to break his legs and arms. But, they would add, for a fee we would protect you against the creditor.

“We play them off against one another. We would then forge a letter of acknowledgement, put a false signature on it, present it to the creditor and pretend that the issue has been solved. We would then demand another fee from the creditor. In the end, we keep all the money and if anybody complains, we threaten to kill them.”

He says Haynes’ favourite threat was: “I’ll decapitate you and drink your blood!”

Viljoen says they never had to carry out their threats. “One look at Ralph and you count your losses.”

He says that they carried out a few knocks every month and that Ralph made a few million every year. “And then there were all the cars that he would buy and never pay for. He would get false papers and sell them again. Same story: if anyone goes to the police, we threaten them.”

There were several cases against Haynes and Viljoen over the past few years, but none of them made it to court. Two years ago the police’s organised crime unit prepared a case against Haynes, but three days after the dockets were handed to the NPA for prosecution, he had copies of it. The case fell apart.

Viljoen says Haynes doesn’t own anything and has never had a credit card or bank accounts. He only works with cash.

“After a knock, we would count the money at his home. He had a money machine and he always said the grrr-sound the money makes as it runs through the machine was the most beautiful thing he’s ever heard.”

According to Viljoen, Haynes must have hidden away millions because he never paid for anything. He has lived for a year in a R19 million villa in Krugersdorp but has never paid any rent. The owner is currently busy getting an eviction order against him. He’s also been threatened.

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