In many cases, the justice system actually works. But there is a particular class of person who seems to be above it. The masterminds of the underworld seem to be mocking us and those who are meant to protect us.
Radovan Krejcir has a lot to celebrate this week.
Firstly, he beat another court case after the state’s star witness developed a sudden change of heart (not uncommon in the underworld) and decided to challenge his confession. The victory was sweetened with R500,000 in bail money, which was returned to the Czech Republic businessman, or crime boss, depending on who you believe.
Secondly, it’s this week five years ago that Krejcir first arrived in South Africa. As an immigrant myself, I know how important it is to mark such milestones. Late last year my family celebrated 20 years in the country.
Except Krejcir’s arrival was a little different from most. You see, he was arrested at the airport on an Interpol red notice, with a fake passport and (according to police at the time) wearing a somewhat flimsy disguise. He was wanted in his home country for massive fraud and an alleged plot to commit murder.
I remember the arrest well. I covered Krejcir’s capture, of which the police were extremely proud, as well as the extradition hearing that followed. I recall thinking there was no way this man, no matter how powerful back home, would be able to twist his way out of the handcuffs that were slapped on him the minute he touched down. How wrong I was.
Krejcir hired an ace team of lawyers and managed to walk out a free man. His version was that he was a refugee who would certainly be killed should he be sent home. There were tales of political plots, daring escapes and a long journey to flee the dark shadow that followed him. As it turned out, Krejcir has become a shadow himself, spreading rapidly across South Africa and touching – in some way or another – some of the most sensational underworld murders.
He’s had a busy five years. Getting to play poker with Teazers boss Lolly Jackson or earning Cyril Beeka’s trust was probably no picnic. Both these man have, incidentally, been assassinated. Krejcir has not been charged for either crime and maintains he had nothing to do with them.
The point is, the failed extradition hearing in 2007 has allowed Krejcir to make some mighty friends and to spread his tentacles into every desired corner.
Next week, he’s due to go on trial for robbery. Krejcir and two others are accused of robbing an electronics store in Pretoria last year. It remains to be seen whether this case will also collapse. If it does, it will be a further embarrassment to the National Prosecuting Authority.
At one of the court appearances in connection with this robbery, Krejcir joked (in his thick accent): “Me, as a billionaire, do I need to go on a Sunday morning with my flip-flops, shorts and T-shirt to rob people of R20 000?”
It is this arrogant humour – and his lifestyle in general – that draws the cameras towards him. But if one peels away the layers and takes the Hollywood glasses off for just a second, it’s clear this is a man now seen to be above the law.
We should use this opportunity to ask how this was all allowed to happen in the first place, and now that it has, how can it be fixed – if it can be fixed.
What I do know is that if Krejcir’s arrival and arrest happened more recently, I would not have rushed to any conclusions or placed any bets.
I would feel the fingers of the Richard Mdluli saga turning my intestines and wonder how far the lines can blur. How long will it take for sanity to prevail? How many cases can crumble? How many more times will I hear a spokesman tell us that the charges have only been provisionally withdrawn, that the case is not over, that there is still a chance of new arrests…
Reporting on the Jackie Selebi saga would tell me that anything is possible, no matter how fantastical. While the conviction of the national police commissioner – the head of Interpol – was eventually secured, it left in its wake a devastating trail of questionable plea bargains and free-to-roam gangsters. Worse, it set some terrible precedents.
Now we are being forced to watch the sequel. Another police commissioner, another case of corruption laced with political poison. Once again we are seeing bizarre appointments, collapsing cases, cover-ups and what appears to be a blatant abuse of the country’s intelligence units. We are seeing links that run right up to the President and his ministers. And, as we head towards Mangaung, we are seeing a lack of any real action in trying to restore the public’s faith in the system.
Since Krejcir arrived in South Africa, the country’s first citizen – Jacob Zuma – has had charges of corruption against him dropped. Suspected robbers, rapists and rhino poaching kingpins have walked out of courts after their cases disintegrated.
Admittedly, there have been victories. I know some dedicated police officers and brave prosecutors who have fought hard to secure convictions. The legal system can – and does -work. But when it comes to the underworld, the masterminds appear to be mocking us. Every time they emerge from court, smile and crack a joke for the journalists, it’s another dash of salt on a festering wound.
Why are police agents not gathering information from reliable sources, infiltrating syndicates and collapsing them from the inside? Why are cases built on the shoulders of hit men and doctors who swap blood samples to help people defraud insurance companies? Sure you need the occasional snitch (the “domino effect”), but aren’t we seeing too many of these kinds of cases?
You may remember a story in 2006 when two undercover agents of the then Scorpions were arrested, by mistake, at the airport while a drug dealer with R5-million worth of cocaine was allowed to slip through.
It was such a painfully obvious example of what happens when the guardians – whoever they might be – are distracted or prevented from doing their job.
The Scorpions are gone now, but a new struggle is upon us. How many more jokes must we hear outside a courtroom before we realise the real consequences of failure? DM
Dubbed a "troublemaker" for his investigative work, Alex Eliseev is also an award-winning hard news journalist who has reported from Haiti, Japan and Libya. Currently an Eyewitness News reporter, he's worked for South Africa's top newspapers, including The Star and Sunday Times. To quench the thirst of his soul, he writes human-interest features. He also collects shirts with birds on them.
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí