After a flurry of high-profile gangland killings in 2011, the underworld settled into an uneasy peace.
But the apparent attempt on the life of alleged kingpin Radovan Krejcir on Wednesday – supposedly months in the making, yet curiously clownish – may herald a new wave of violence among those who are suspected of running everything from the drug trade to money laundering in South Africa. And if the tactics used are any indication, those most at risk will be innocent bystanders.
Krejcir, a Czech fugitive who faces deportation and trial in his native country, or possible prosecution in South Africa for crimes committed since 2007, survived what he described as an attempted hit.
The extraordinary and elaborate nature of the device used – a multibarrel weapon packed with projectiles concealed behind the numberplate of a stolen car apparently activated by remote control – has raised a number of questions among gangsters and those familiar with their methods, including whether it was staged or if it could have been the work of “a government agency”.
Die another day: the red VW Polo had a multibarrel gun hidden behind the numberplate [Photo: Clarissa Sosin]
Regardless, various sources said the planning behind the weaponised car trap clearly took months, and considerable expertise.
“It must be a top gangster,” said one source acquainted with Krejcir, pointing out that a range of skills from the use of explosives to panel beating would have been required. “There are only two or three [such gangsters] in this country.”
Beyond those questions, however, are the broader implications for an underworld that could see a shakeup in the next few months.
George Luca, the alleged triggerman in the murder of Teazers boss Lolly Jackson, will be returned to South Africa soon to stand trial after he exhausted appeals against his extradition from Cyprus.
Luca has threatened to reveal a great deal about the involvement of others in that murder. In turn, a price has apparently been put on Luca’s head.
The Krejcir incident was almost immediately linked to Luca’s return, but the source acquainted with Krejcir poured cold water on this theory, explaining that Luca’s return was “unlikely to be related” to Wednesday’s events, as Luca will “simply blame” Cyril Beeka, who was killed in Cape Town in 2011. Beeka is just one of a long line of bodies that have turned up in Krejcir’s wake.
Krejcir was first linked to the shooting of private investigator Kevin Trytsman in 2009, and to a conspiracy that led to the murder by suffocation of German luxury car dealer Uwe Gemballa in 2010 – an allegation he has vehemently denied.
Also on the list is Jackson, who was apparently in business with Krejcir and was murdered in 2010. After the 2011 murder of Beeka, who was shot while driving, police investigated Krejcir.
In a 2011 raid on Krejcir’s home in Johannesburg, the Hawks special investigative unit said it had recovered a hit list containing the names of state prosecutor Riegel du Toit, who had prosecuted cases touching on Krejcir, doctor Marian Tupy, who had turned state witness on Krejcir, and security consultant Paul O’Sullivan, who had been a thorn in Krejcir’s side.
Asked about the incident on Wednesday and possible motives for the murder of Krejcir, well-placed sources pointed to inroads Krejcir has made in Cape Town, where he is said to have been looking into opportunities to broaden his business base.
Sources close to Krejcir also said he met with one of the country’s so-called top gangsters in Johannesburg last week to discuss a falling-out over a potential business partnership in Cape Town.
The source acquainted with Krejcir said Krejcir “is in Cape Town a lot and there are plans of moving to Cape Town”. That was echoed by several other sources with varying degrees of inside information.
In media interviews on Wednesday, Krejcir claimed not to know who was behind the alleged hit.
In early 2012, Cape Town brothel operator Igor “the new Russian” Russol told the Mail & Guardian that Cape Town had been destabilised after Beeka’s death.
“Beeka was a real strong man,” Russol said. “When he was in Cape Town, everything was nice and under control because people respected him and maybe they were a little scared.”
Security, drugs, prostitution
Beeka’s death appeared to lead to a consolidation among players focused on providing nightclub security in the city, with security often structured much like protection money.
But suggestions are that control of parts of the city’s lucrative trade in drugs and prostitution may again be in play, with the names of Krejcir and Mark Lifman mentioned.
Lifman has in the past been an importer of clothing, a security company founder, a taxi operator, a property developer and allegedly a gambling entrepreneur.
The special effects connection
Police are reportedly interested in an individual with links to the special effects industry in Cape Town with regard to the Krejcir device, but by Thursday it was not clear whether they had identified a suspect.
Based on photographs, a Cape Town film industry special effects expert said the Krejcir weapon appeared to be a standard trunnion gun, typically used “to give effect of bullets being shot into something. But this one was obviously manufactured — it’s a different gauge, a bigger ball to what they usually use on film sets”. Though he believed there are less than a dozen experts in the country with experience in creating such a device, he also cautioned that it could have been built by “someone who pulled the design off the internet”.
Other pyrotechnics creators in the city told the Mail & Guardian that they had had no word of investigations or arrests, and that police had shown no particular interest in their explosive stores. “There was one guy who had a visit from the bomb squad today [Thursday], but that was just part of the regular inspection,” said one operator.
By law the explosives used in pyrotechnics are strictly controlled and must be stored in police-registered magazines, with accurate records of all movement. The operators said that is true in both theory and practice for established suppliers, although there are exceptions.
“We call them cowboys,” said one supplier of pre-prepared pyrotechnics. “There are guys who siphon off [black] powder and keep it somewhere else, so when they are on a movie set and the director says ‘hey, we want to do this’, they don’t have to put it through the register.”
But the supplier said any gangster looking for such a service would be better off stealing explosives from a mine and enlisting anyone with pyrotechnic experience to handle preparation and loading. Or to look in Johannesburg.
“Those cowboys, they’ve been weeded out in Cape Town. In Jo’burg there are probably too many to weed out, guys making stuff in their garages. If I was the cops, I’d look there.” –amaBhungane reporters & Phillip de Wet
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