DRC ‘mercenaries’ must face SA lawComment on this story
Pretoria - Members of a DRC rebel group accused of plotting to overthrow president Joseph Kabila's government while in South Africa must be tried in this country, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Monday.
Prosecutor Tory Pretorius said the group of 20 Democratic Republic of Congo men should be subjected to South African legislation.
“You have to take into account South Africa's international obligations. South Africa can't be seen to be sitting, doing nothing while people are planning a coup d'etat on one of our neighbours,” he said.
“It was planned here. The recruitment of the mercenaries was done here. The needs list and the guns were obtained and the money would have been obtained here.”
Pretorius's remarks followed an application by Jonas Mosopa, for two of the 20 men, to have the charges quashed on the basis that the crime was intended for a foreign sovereign state.
He said the alleged crime of plotting to depose the DRC government was set to be executed outside South Africa's borders, out of the jurisdiction of South African courts.
Mosopa said the court should also note that the men did not execute their plans.
Citing different cases, Pretorius said a South African court had full jurisdiction in the case.
“My lord, the moment minds meet, on a crime, at that time a crime has already been committed. The contemplated offence need not be brought to fruition,” he said.
“You should take into account the realities of a modern state. With transnational offences, crimes are committed by people conspiring in one country to do crimes in another country.”
After a brief adjournment, Judge Billy Mothle dismissed Mosopa's application.
One member of the group did not appear in court on Monday. He was said to be in Kalafong Hospital, west of Pretoria, with an undisclosed ailment.
The matter will resume on Tuesday after Cerita Joubert, representing the ailing man, was granted time to visit him on Monday.
The 20 accused have not pleaded.
Security was heightened at the court, with every person entering being screened. Numerous police officers were in court.
Nineteen of the men, including US-Congolese citizen James Kazongo, were arrested on February 5 last year in a police raid in Limpopo.
The group's alleged leader Etienne Kabila, who claims to be the DRC president's half-brother, was arrested in Cape Town three days later after handing himself over to police.
The State alleges the group were members of a dissident organisation in the DRC known as the Union of Nationalists for Renewal and were dissatisfied with the current leadership of the DRC government under President Joseph Kabila's leadership.
They face charges of contravening the SA Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act by engaging in mercenary activity, and contravening the local Riotous Assemblies Act by conspiring to murder president Kabila and 15 top members of his government.
The State alleges the group last year met undercover members of the Hawks on several occasions.
They allegedly recruited two of the officers and others to provide specialised military training to the group and to procure large numbers of assault rifles, grenades, machine guns, air-to-air missiles, satellite phones, and two-way radios for them.
The State alleges the group's mercenary activities in South Africa had been aimed at a coup d'etat in the DRC to unseat the country's government.
It is further alleged that the group had conspired to murder Kabila and several DRC government officials, including the chiefs of the DRC air force and navy, the national intelligence director, the governor of the central bank, and the minister of interior.