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AGE OF THE ASSASSIN

Lawyer William Booth tells court how he narrowly escaped assassination

Lawyer William Booth tells court how he narrowly escaped assassination
Cape Town lawyer William Booth. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Cape Town criminal lawyer William Booth says he is lucky to be alive because State witness, Mr A, who had followed him without his knowledge and conducted surveillance at his offices and home, had already killed two people.

Four years after the attempt on his life on 9 April 2020, Cape Town criminal lawyer William Booth stepped into the witness box in the Western Cape High Court to recount details of the attempt on his life.

It was the first time Booth had publicly shared the harrowing story.

The State contends that the attempted hit on Booth was orchestrated by alleged underworld figure Nafiz Modack and his co-accused, former debt collector Zane Kilian.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Nafiz Modack conspired with Zane Kilian to murder prominent Cape lawyer, claims State amid slew of charges”

On Friday, 23 March three members of the Terrible West Siders gang, Kauthar Brown, Ebrahim Deare and Riyaad Gesant, entered a plea and sentence agreement with the State. The trio admitted having received instructions from the leader of their gang to kill Booth.

Modack and Kilian, with 13 other accused, collectively face 124 charges including murder, attempted murder, corruption, gangsterism, extortion, communication interception, money laundering and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

The 13 co-accused are Ziyaad Poole, Moegamat Brown, Riyaat Gesant, Fagmeed Kelly, Mario Petersen, Jacque Cronje, Petrus Visser, Janick Adonis, Amaal Jantjies, former Anti-Gang Unit sergeant Ashley Tabisher, Yaseen Modack, Mogamat Mukudam and Ricardo Morgan.

Prosecutor Blaine Lazarus told Booth the reason he was testifying was to clarify the attack that happened on 9 April 2020 and the role he played in representing a State witness now known as Mr C.

On Monday, the court heard that Booth assisted Mr C in filing charges of intimidation, kidnapping and extortion against one of Nafiz Modack’s allies, Jacques Cronje, known as Modack’s “enforcer”.

Due to these threats, the witness fled the country and on Monday appeared in the Western Cape High Court via a video link from Dubai.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Modack trial — State witness links dud investment to failed hit on lawyer William Booth”

‘Popping sounds’ 

Booth told the court that on the morning of 9 April 2020, he had taken his two border collies for a walk.

“When I returned to the premises, I entered the garage area through a small gate. My wife’s car was parked in the driveway while mine was in the garage. When I walked into the garage, all of the gates were closed,” he said.

Booth said he noticed two people at the pedestrian gate. They wore masks and sounded as if they were asking for food. He found this suspicious.

He said the two men moved to the driveway gate and his dogs began barking.

“Immediately when they went to the driveway gate I heard what sounded like popping sounds and shots were fired. At the time, you don’t realise that you are being shot at.

“There were five shots fired… four shots went through the vehicle and ended up in the dashboard, so anybody in the car would probably have been hit. The fifth bullet hit the garage wall.”

Booth said only one of the men was doing the shooting. A vehicle was waiting for them and the perpetrators fled the scene.

Following the attack, private security and police were called. Booth praised the SAPS for their prompt response and their handling of the subsequent investigation.

“I hired private security to protect my home, wife and family, as well as to accompany me to the office and various courts. It was during lockdown, but the courts were open and I had permission to travel throughout South Africa to attend court.

“I had to hire security to accompany me, which was a significant financial outlay,” the court heard.

Helping Mr C

Booth told the court he met the witness Mr C on 11 March 2020. Mr C had sought assistance with the filing of charges of kidnapping, intimidation and extortion against Jacques Cronje and Mr C’s former business partner, Shanil Maharaj, concerning a failed investment.

Booth then assisted Mr C in drafting an affidavit and helped him to open a case at Milnerton police station as the incident that sparked the charges had taken place at the Crystal Towers Hotel in Century City outside Cape Town.

“After that, I and other lawyers at my office assisted him in getting restraining orders against Cronje and Maharaj related to them constantly contacting Mr C and his family. On 13 March 2020, an interim order was obtained at Wynberg Magistrates’ Court and made final on 9 September 2020.

“With regard to the criminal case of intimidation, kidnapping and extortion, Cronje was arrested on 2 April 2020 and taken to court. The prosecutor did not enrol the matter… they asked that the matter be postponed for further investigation. Hence, Cronje was released,” Booth explained.

“I helped him (Mr C) get security and I also helped him find a clinical psychologist to assess and treat his psychological issues as a result of this incident. When he came to see me during this time, he was extremely distraught and I felt he needed help,” Booth said.

When no progress was made in the Crystal Tower incident, Booth contacted Anti-Gang Unit member Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear.

“I knew him from working on cases with him, as well as representing accused people in investigations. So, to ensure that the Crystal Tower matter was properly investigated, I felt it was appropriate to contact a senior officer, specifically the senior officer I knew who would ensure that the investigation was carried out and dealt with efficiently and professionally,” he told the court.

Kinnear was assassinated on 18 September 2020.

‘Lucky to be alive’

Booth told the court he was not familiar with the witness known as Mr A, had never met him and that he was not a client of his.

Two months ago, Mr A admitted in the Western Cape High Court that he had shot and killed 74-year-old Nicolaas Heerschap outside his home in Melkbosstrand on 9 July 2019, as well as tow truck driver Richard Joseph. Nicolaas’ son, Hawks officer Nico Heerschap, was investigating Nafiz Modack at the time.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Gangster admits to killing Hawks officer’s father, alleges Nafiz Modack was behind hit”

Mr A also said during earlier testimony that the murder of lawyer Pete Mihalik on 30 October 2018 led to an eye-for-an-eye situation. According to Mr A’s testimony, Mihalik was Modack’s lawyer and Modack believed that alleged Sexy Boys gang boss Jerome “Donkie” Booysen had killed him.

Modack then allegedly ordered the killing of Booth, who was Booysen’s lawyer. There was an offer of R3-million to murder Booth.

Booth said: “I did read about that in the media… in fact, I immediately contacted the media and told them that I have never represented Jerome or Colin Booysen, in any capacity.”

Presiding judge Robert Henney said: “Mr A accurately described Booth’s movements, including where he stayed during the incident, where he practised (law), where he stayed in Bishops Court, where he parked his cars, and where he attended court cases.

“Going back to your diary, nobody would have known where you would have been – only yourself and your clients. Booth, you are quite lucky to be alive, but not the two persons he killed, Heerschap and Joseph.”

Booth told Daily Maverick it was an emotional and traumatic experience for him in court on Tuesday.

“Yes, I could have been killed. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate and it is quite scary to think that it could have happened on previous occasions and I was completely oblivious to that.”

Pinging

Meanwhile, prosecutor Greg Wolmarans called Hawks officer Captain Edward du Plessis to testify on pinging, the interception of cellphone communication.

Du Plessis is a member of a national task team investigating the murder of the Anti-Gang Unit’s Charl Kinnear almost four years ago. According to Wolmarans, Du Plessis will discuss the findings related to the murder of Kinnear, the attempt on Booth’s life as well as money laundering payments for pinging.

Du Plessis was asked to explain in layman’s terms the essence of pinging.

“Pinging is basically a way to track a person’s cellphone,” he said. Kinnear’s movements were allegedly tracked through this method before he was shot.

Modack’s lawyer, advocate Bash Sibda, objected, arguing that Du Plessis was not an expert on pinging.

On Wednesday, 8 May, the State will argue why Du Plessis should be allowed to testify about pinging and the defence will present counter-arguments. Judge Henney will then rule on whether or not Du Plessis’ evidence is admissible. DM

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