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Kinnear murder trial State witness explains how ‘pinging’ can track a cellphone user’s location

Kinnear murder trial State witness explains how ‘pinging’ can track a cellphone user’s location
Nafiz Modack (left) and Zane Kilian in the Western Cape Division of the High Court, where they and 13 co-accused face a slew of charges, including the murder of the Anti-Gang Unit's Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear. (Photo: Jaco Marais / Die Burger / Gallo Images)

A US citizen whose company designed a system to track cellphones testified in the Western Cape Division of the High Court that the LAD platform could accurately determine a cellphone user’s location.

US citizen Larry Hurwitz testified virtually in the Western Cape Division of the High Court on Tuesday, explaining how “pinging” — tracking the location of cellphones — works and how accurate it is in determining the location of the person being pinged.

The pinging evidence relates only to former debt collector Zane Kilian. He is accused of pinging the cellphone of murdered Anti-Gang Unit Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear 2,408 times; that of lawyer William Booth 658 times; that of alleged Sexy Boys gang boss Jerome “Donkie” Booysen 193 times; and that of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield once.

The State contends that the pinging carried out by Kilian on Kinnear played a crucial role in his murder on 18 September 2020 and the pinging of Booth’s phone led assailants to his home where they attempted to murder him in April 2020.

Kilian has admitted to pinging Kinnear’s cellphone to trace his location and claims he did so at the behest of co-accused Nafiz Modack. Initially, Kilian was the sole accused, but Modack was added to the charge sheet. The pair have also been charged with attempting to murder Booth.

Modack and Kilian, along with 13 co-accused, are collectively facing 124 charges including murder, attempted murder, corruption, gangsterism, extortion, the illegal interception of communications, money laundering and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

The other accused are Jacques Cronje, 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.

Hurwitz was one of the two witnesses called by the State to testify on Tuesday. The other witness was Durban-based K9-unit Warrant Officer Kelvin Shunmugam, who was “obsessed” with Modack, whom he compared to a “Robin Hood”.

Pinging accuracy

The system allegedly used by Kilian to ping Kinnear, Booth and others was the LAD platform, which was developed and made available for commercial use by the 3DT Group, with founder Hurwitz at the helm.

Hurwitz told the court, “I developed a system which one can use to ping a cellphone in South Africa. I was the CEO of this company named 3DT Group. The system and software platform to carry out pinging is called LAD. 3DT was a South African company that produced the software and had a contract with MTN and the pings were sold to various entities.

“MTN was the supplier of the location-based services. We had a contract with the provider and that is how we produced the pings,” he told the court.

“When we send through a request for a location through our services, the user will enter the phone number, it will pass through the provider belonging to that. The provider gets the last known location for that phone and also based upon that cellphone tower which is returned to our system saying this is the longitude and latitude,” he said.

“We would then convert that longitude and latitude into an address, a process known as geocoding. Geocoding is the process of converting coordinates into physical addresses, such as, for example, 123 Main Street,” he testified.

When asked by prosecutor Greg Wolmarans how accurate the process was, he replied that in cities or large suburbs with more cellphone towers, the chance of accuracy was higher. The more towers, the higher the accuracy.

Regarding the selling of his LAD business model to people for pinging purposes, Hurwitz said that his target audience was the law enforcement community.

Selling pings 

One of the people who purchased pings from Hurwitz was former policeman Bradley Goldblatt, who, with his father Ivan, started the company 1 Track Solutions in 2018, which sold pings to Kilian.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Cellphone pinging service was used in a gang war, ex-policeman tells court during Zane Kilian bail hearing”

Hurwitz testified, “Goldblatt I know, he was a primary account user. I Track Solutions was the primary account user and sold pings to a secondary user, which was Kilian. Yes, Bradley paid me to get pings and Kilian paid Goldblatt, not me.”

The trial continues. DM

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