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AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

Modack trial — State witness links dud investment to failed hit on lawyer William Booth

Modack trial — State witness links dud investment to failed hit on lawyer William Booth
Threatening messages witness C allegedly received from accused Jacques Cronje were read into the record in the Western Cape High Court on Monday. The bank account number has been blurred out. (Photos: From court documents)

Court told that threats and a purported R200,000 reward for the killing of a witness testifying in a trial involving Nafiz Modack and his ‘enforcer’ Jacques Cronje led to the witness and his family fleeing South Africa in April 2020.

On Monday, an unnamed witness appeared in the Western Cape High Court via a video link in Dubai. He explained how, by defending the witness, a hit had been ordered on criminal lawyer William Booth.

Judge Robert Henney ruled that the identity of the witness, “Mr C”, who fled the country due to threats, intimidation and extortion, should not be made public.

Mr C, a self-employed asset management professional, testified throughout the day from Dubai on a virtual platform. The witness is providing testimony in cases involving intimidation, kidnapping and extortion stemming from an investment that failed in March 2020.

The main accused in these cases are alleged underworld figure Nafiz Modack and his “enforcer” Jacques Cronje.

modack trial cronje

File photo: Jacques Cronje (blue shirt) outside the Cape Town Regional Court with Nafiz Modack (far right) in 2018. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Modack and former debt collector Zane Kilian are the main accused in the attempted murder of Booth on 9 April 2020.

The state maintains that the failed attempt on Booth’s life was carried out because he represented Mr C, who was allegedly being extorted by Modack.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Plot to murder lawyer William Booth linked to his representation of victim of extortion client

Modack, Cronje and Kilian – along with 12 co-accused – are facing 124 charges including murder, attempted murder, corruption, gangsterism, extortion, illegal interception of communications, money laundering and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

The other accused are Ziyaad Poole, Moegamat Brown, Riyaat Gesant, Fagmeed Kelly, Mario Petersen, Petrus Visser, Janick Adonis, Amaal Jantjies, former Anti-Gang Unit sergeant Ashley Tabisher, Yaseen Modack, Mogamat Mukudam and Ricardo Morgan.

Investment failure

Mr C’s business dealings that almost cost him his life, and led to him and his family fleeing South Africa, began in March 2018 when business partner Shanil Maharaj wanted to invest a large sum of money.

“Maharaj did a high-risk investment with the firm over a short period of time. This led us to become potential business partners. He invested R545,000 in 2018,” Mr C told the court.

“On Maharaj’s request, he requested for the strategy to be changed to a shorter term and in doing so resulted in a quick loss of the investment.”

The court heard that Maharaj lost his entire investment in 2019.

Mr C said the two met at his offices, where he informed Maharaj of the failure of his investment.

“Maharaj was upset, banging on the desk. (He said) I need to pay back the money and I’ve caused his whole life to be upside down with his loss. I told him it was a high-risk investment which was signed by both parties and that I am not willing to pay the funds back,” he told the court.

Mr C said this was followed by constant phone calls and messages to his family, friends and others saying that he (Mr C) was a scam artist who took people’s money and ran away.

Maharaj reportedly wrote to the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) informing them that Mr C had promised him a fourfold return on his investment of R545,000. Nothing came of this letter to the FSCA.

‘Enforcer and muscle men’

Mr C told the court that on 9 March 2020, Imaad Modack, an intern at his company at the time, had said a potential investor wanted to meet him.

This led to a meeting at Crystal Towers Hotel, Century City. He arrived at 9.20pm and met with Modack’s “enforcer”, Jacques Cronje, and two well-built African men.

“We sat at the table and Cronje told me they have R5-million to invest and that they have farms and other businesses. Cronje left the table, made a call and then returned.

“Cronje told me he is here for the R2.5-million I owed Maharaj. My response was I owe them no money and I asked where is the proof that I owe them that amount,” he said.

Mr C said Cronje had shown him a spreadsheet containing an amount of R500,000. Ten percent interest brought this figure to a closing balance of R2.5-million.

Mr C said he was then taken to another room in the hotel where things took a turn for the worse. Cronje and two unknown people were in the room.

“Cronje told me to write an acknowledgement of debt whereby I admit that I owe Maharaj R545,000 and that I’m going to pay R90,000 immediately and the balance over three months.

“I told him that I felt threatened and intimidated. Cronje asked if I wanted him to break my laptop.”

Mr C said Cronje provided him with his Capitec bank account details and demanded immediate clearance on the payment. However, when Mr C made the payment, he received a message indicating that the transaction was on hold.

Cronje then went to a nearby ATM. While he was away, Mr C received a call from the FNB fraud department wanting confirmation that he had requested immediate clearance of the amount.

“The bank also told me they needed a countersign from my wife for an immediate clearance. I asked the bank to call me back in five minutes. When Cronje returned, the bank phoned me and I put the phone on speaker so that Cronje could hear what the bank had said earlier,” he testified.

Pay or die

The court heard that Cronje got into the car with Mr C and drove to his home to get his wife’s approval for the payment of R90,000. He was followed by two unknown men in a white BMW with no number plates.

“At my home, Cronje asked for something to drink. I went to the room and told my wife that the bank was going to call. I went on my laptop and tried again to make the payment of R90,000.

“The bank called back and said they could not approve the payment because it was already 11.30pm and they could not release the funds. I was told to do the transaction on the morning of 10 March and then the funds would be released,” he testified.

modack trial booth

Lawyer William Booth. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Once Cronje and the two men had left, Mr C e-mailed a law firm. He was informed that this was a criminal matter and he was given the phone number of attorney William Booth.

In the early hours of 10 March 2020, he sent an e-mail to Booth.

“I did not sleep that entire night. Mr Booth called me and asked if I could get to his office safely. I was advised not to use any of my private vehicles and took an Uber to Booth’s office.

“After I explained what transpired since meeting Cronje, Booth took down an affidavit and claims of intimidation, kidnapping and extortion were noted,” he said.

Mr C later hired private security guards because of the threats he was allegedly receiving from both Cronje and Maharaj.

The following are among messages read into the record:

  • “200k any hamster who kill them, (Mr C) and his wife, today or this week or his here don’t f**k with or u all die.”
  • In a reply to Mr C who said he was in a meeting, Cronje said “u can have your meeting with the pope please call your doctor to be on standby every day. John Wick is coming to say hello and do the right thing”.
  • A message on 11 March 2020 reads, “If you don’t pay today you and your wife that has signing agreement will be arrested by the hawk, will get you doctor on standby, I am serious”.

Booth intervenes

Mr C said that following these threats, on 12 March 2020 at around 10.30am, he heard his doorbell ring. He saw on the video intercom system that Cronje and another person were outside.

He did not open the door and photographed the intercom image of Cronje and the unknown person on his doorstep.

Mr C said he and his wife heard a loud bang and found that a brick had been hurled through the window.

He called Claremont police who arrived after Cronje had left. Mr C said he opened a case of intimidation and malicious damage to property.

“I was also informed by Booth to get a protection order against Cronje. I got the order on 13 March 202o.”

Despite the protection order, Mr C continued receiving threatening messages from unknown numbers.

Meanwhile, Cronje confirmed meeting with Mr C and sending him messages, but claimed he was merely encouraging him to pay back the money. Cronje said he was not a debt collector, but rather a mediator.

The case continues on Tuesday. DM

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