By Timo Shihepo
Windhoek - Four Namibians who were arrested alongside a South African in October on charges of kidnapping, extortion, armed robbery, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and masquerading as police officers have been freed due to lack of evidence, The Southern Times can reveal.
The five-man gang, which was accused of operating a syndicate in South Africa for about five years, was arrested in a sting operation in which fake diamonds, fake drugs and a stash of fake South African currency were also seized.
They initially appeared in South Africa’s Vanderbiljpark Magistrate’s Court in October but The Southern Times now understands that the charges have been dropped despite the severity of the case.
Namibian Police Force (NamPol) Lieutenant-General Sebastian Ndeitunga confirmed this week that the charges have been dropped.
“The issue back in October was to verify whether the suspects were indeed Namibians. The information we got is that not all of them are Namibians.
Five people were arrested, four are Namibians and one is a South African. Further information tells us that this case was withdrawn on November 2 because of lack of evidence.
As it stands now, these individuals are free,” Ndeitunga, who is also the Vice President of the International Criminal Police Organization for Africa, said.
During the operation back in October, the gang was described as dangerous by Carte Blanche, an investigative TV programme, which assisted a specialised South African police unit that arrested the syndicate.
The gang has allegedly been targeting online customers, who advertised products on the OLX classified website.
Police seized fake diamonds, fake drugs and a large amount of counterfeit money. The suspects were arrested following several complaints of kidnapping, assault and armed robbery by several victims whom they targeted, pretending they wanted to buy the goods the victims advertised online.
Several websites have reported on how the gang allegedly operates.
Sedibengster.com stated that in the past months, Ster received a number of reports of unsuspecting motorists selling their cars online and were lured to the Vaal Triangle, 60 kilometres outside Johannesburg, where they faced armed kidnapping, extortion and severe beatings.
Furthermore, Mybroadband.co.za explained how the scam works. It is alleged that a syndicate member contacts the vehicle seller and lures the person to a meeting in Vanderbijlpark to buy the vehicle.
At the meeting, the seller is introduced to a second member of the group who shows the seller a bag full of cash and diamonds. The seller is then told the ‘diamonds’ must be sold to a third party to make up the rest of the cash to pay for the vehicle.
The website reports that the victim is taken to a nearby house and told to wait for the rest of the money to arrive. Out of the blue, fake police officers then storm the house and accuse the victims of being involved in illicit diamond dealing.
The victims are then taken to separate rooms if there are more than one, where they are threatened that they will be taken to jail “where they will be raped”. The victims are then forced to transfer money to the criminals’ accounts and hand their bank cards to the criminals with their PINs.
Some of the victims were forced to withdraw money from a bank, while others were held captive. After the victims handed over their money to the criminals, they were told that they would be killed if they went to the police after being released.
Ndeitunga said it is vital for the Southern African Development Community region and the whole of Africa to work together to apprehend criminals.
“We have a good relationship with the police forces within the region. We do joint operations on activities such as drug trafficking, stolen vehicles, illegal immigration and cattle theft, among others.
“The cooperation is good. The only challenge we are facing is a lack of resources to participate in some of these joint operations.
I remember that we had to decline an invitation from our South African counterparts to do an operation because of the lack of resources.”