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‘SA a haven for organised crime,’ says expert

by Zahid Jadwat

The arrest of an alleged Israeli gang leader in Johannesburg was an indication of increasing organised crime in South Africa. That’s according to an expert, who said the country was becoming a hub for international fugitives.

“We’ve noticed over the last three decades an increase in organised crime activity from international fugitives making South Africa their home [and] using South Africa to launder illicit funds,” said Chad Thomas from the Johannesburg-based IRS Forensic Investigations.

On Thursday, South African Police together with Interpol arrested eight men – including Israel’s “most wanted gang leader” – in the affluent suburb of Bryanston. Police said the 46-year-old man was believed to have been connected to the Abergil Organisation.

During the raid, Police confiscated five assault rifles and seven pistols, around $40 000 (R691 000) and three suspected stolen motorcycles.

The criminal syndicate has been linked to drug trafficking, extortion and other criminal activities in Israel. However, Thomas pointed out this was not the first such arrest in the country.


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‘Haven’ for organised crime

The latest operation had raised concerns that South Africa was a haven for organised crime. In a hint of confirmation, Thomas said the operation was not “unusual”. He noted several other occasions when high-profile criminals were apprehended on local soil.

“When one looks at organised crime as a whole,” explained Thomas, it’s not unusual for South Africa to become a haven for organised crime figures. One of the most high profile cases dates back to the mid-1980s when Vito Palazzolo – allegedly one of the top five of the Sicilian Mafia – made his home in South Africa and was only arrested a few years ago on an Interpol Red Notice.”

As Thomas explained, the Israeli Mafia had remained inconspicuous for decades within the country, but fugitives from other countries had been detected.

“It was fairly quiet in South Africa in respect of the Israeli Mafia. We saw other organisations growing; we saw an influx in Serbian nationals, we even saw Arkan’s killers who were found guilty in absentia for the horrendous acts that took place in Bosnia Herzegovina during the early 90s. Two of Arkan’s killers later emerged in South Africa and they were linked to both local organised crime as well as international organised crime,” he said.


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Law enforcement and organised crime

Thomas pointed at the State’s failure to maintain strong law enforcement capabilities as a reason for organised crime in the country. He said this was due to a dangerous lack of resources.

“The fact that our infrastructure and the resources that our law enforcement have in South Africa is so stretched as a result of issues such as state capture and other criminal activities, we can’t be surprised that so many international syndicates are making South Africa their haven. The place they go to hide and then even continue with the criminal activities,” he said.

He said it was concerning that the arrested gang leader appeared to have not just sought Johannesburg as a hideaway, but possibly as a base for operations as well.

“I think the greatest concern here is that South Africa wasn’t being used just as a place to hide from the Israeli authorities, [but] the criminal activities continued while they were in South Africa.”

Thomas raised concerns of their possible involvement in turf wars, which have become prevalent in recent years.

“The fact that they found weapons as well as what they believe is a vehicle that was converted to be used as a kind of a sniper-type device means that the syndicate wasn’t just involved in violence in Israel and in drug trafficking from South Africa, but may even be involved in murder. We’ve seen a lot of high-profile assassinations the last few years involving the underworld.”

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