25 April 2024 | 02:54 AM

The meaning of Radovan Krejcir

Key Takeaways

There’s not really a single point at which a country suddenly becomes a failed state. States exist across a continuum of dysfunction. Some things still work in Zimbabwe, in Swaziland, after all. And in Italy, for instance, some things don’t.

In war the collapse of law and order happens so fast we can see it and it is usually mirrored by physical destruction, which underlines the impact.

Organised crime and corruption are more like slow biological warfare or radiation. The infrastructure seems to remain intact — there are just bodies that accumulate haphazardly — until you realise the infrastructure (or the institution) has become so contaminated, it is no longer functional, indeed it has become a threat itself and must be abandoned or destroyed.

And it’s hard to tell how much danger you are in at any one time. The poison accumulates and the impact may be delayed. So we rely on markers — canaries in the coal mine — that tell us how bad the situation is. Has your little badge turned orange? Evacuate your country, now — Or take emergency action to stop the contamination.

The appearance on our shores of Radovan Krejcir is one such marker. Given that he was arrested on arrival in 2007 (on an international warrant issued by the Czech Republic), Mr Krejcir has done rather well.

Out on bail, Krejcir, who is not publicity shy, said he had chosen South Africa because it had the “best Constitution in the world”. What he meant is money and slick lawyers can almost always trump a weak criminal justice system — but that the rules are strong enough to restrain the authorities from resorting to extrajudicial retaliation.

But Krejcir has tested the boundaries of that assessment. After the murder of Cyril Beeka he went on the run, his lawyers have said, partly because he feared for his life. There was some validity in that fear.

Notwithstanding the headline in the Sunday Times — ‘Beeka exposed as SA spy” — no proof has emerged to support the claim that Beeka was an undercover agent. The strongest circumstantial evidence that Beeka might indeed have been an intelligence asset of some kind has been the reaction of the security authorities to his killing.

Finally, belatedly, they treated Krejcir as what he has been all along: a direct challenge to the authority and integrity of the state. And we should not assume that, because the state has now acted against Krejcir in arresting him for fraud, the battle is over. His choice of South Africa as a refuge from Czech justice is a particular problem, but it is also symptomatic of a much larger malaise.

Krejcir is a connoisseur of weak systems. It is what he grew up with in the Balkans. He can smell dirty cops and venal politicians. It’s what took him to Seychelles when he fled Prague. In the capital, Mahé, Krejcir rented a house from the president’s son and moved on only when the official extortion rate became too much for him — notably a demand for millions of rands to delay signing a treaty which would have exposed him to extradition.

Even from 4 000km away Krejcir could pick out the gangrenous odour of the South African body politic. So far, he has not been proved wrong. As one foreign diplomat put it to me recently: “There are rules in this country, but no consequences.”

A short period of imprisonment at the start of his stay merely meant an introduction to the local underworld. George Smith, with whom he shared a cell, introduced him to Lolly Jackson and the Bedfordview gang. Who, Krejcir would have asked, is the slickest criminal attorney in town? So Ian Small-Smith was brought on to the payroll, with a host of other lawyers. And Small-Smith introduced him to Joey Mabasa, then head of crime intelligence in Gauteng.

Somewhere along the line came Beeka, with or without a nod from the National Intelligence Agency or the South African Secret Service. That would not really have mattered to Krejcir. In the Czech Republic he was adept at managing the relationship with the security services and in South Africa he found the same biddable politicisation, factionalism and inter-agency rivalry, not to mention corruption.

In any case, Beeka introduced him to the president’s son. How convenient was that? There is even speculation that Krejcir made some political donations and that details of such benevolence disappeared with the laptop of his business manager, Ivan Savov, after it was seized as evidence in the investigation of the murder of Uwe Gemballa.

And when, as it appears, Beeka came to contemplate cashing in some of his chips, well, there were many enemies and rivals who might have been willing to bring his life to a sudden and brutal end. Buried with Beeka, of course, will be the knowledge of his extensive access to Krejcir’s affairs in South Africa.

Appropriately, Krejcir also inherited much of the network of thugs and crooks who came to surround Brett Kebble in his last days.

Glenn Agliotti, damaged goods but a useful guide, was extended a loan. The Elite gang — Mickey Schultz and company — were engaged around the prospect of running Jackson’s Teazers empire, should Krejcir succeed in taking it over. And Krejcir fits right in here.

I can’t put it better than a perceptive commentator on the Mail & Guardian website. Following our articles on the murder of Jackson in May 2010, William Sithonga wrote: “In a society where the majority wants to be a celeb and even leaders act like shallow celebrities in terms of deportment and lifestyle[,] what we lack is a counter culture.

“Money and cool are worshipped[,] developing from the chaps who kill for cellphones so that they achieve cool by being feared and ability to buy lots of booze incrementally succeeding to cool by having the flashiest cars, apparel, women and booze. Our political leaders worship at the same shrine.

“The society has groomed the Malemas of this world that way without a counter culture. The result is that all seek an individual profit opportunity to attain the desired goals. Politics becomes a means to get to eat, shop and live in Sandton and have power.

“For others, accumulation of money through crime is a means to the same ends with the exception that money buys you indirect power through purchasing a police officer, a magistrate, a prosecutor and, ultimately, a powerful politician who wants a high life but cannot afford it.

“Check what dominant expressions of our popular culture like kwaito and celebrity celebrate: everything that Lolly Jackson stood for.

“To ask a question, can a morally aware society breed corrupt leadership? Does the pursuit and worship of money start when one gets into public office or is it something that one learns before public life?

“In a democracy the quality of the leadership[,] be it politics, business (imagine Lolly was a businessman — a very broad, meaningless but worshipped term indeed)[,] is to a large extent a reflection on the led.”

So, we may yet rid ourselves of Krejcir. But, unless we start to exercise discipline as a society, there is a wave of people like him coming, attracted by our sophisticated banking and legal system — and our diminishing capacity to enforce its rules.

Sam Sole is a managing partner of amaBhungane, the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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