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Durban - A senior eThekwini Municipality internal auditor has been fingered as the main culprit behind a string of “follow-home” armed robberies in Durban.
Njabulo Morrison Ngcobo, who has indicated he will plead not guilty, is applying for bail in the Durban Magistrate’s Court after he was arrested in September on six counts of armed robbery.
The State alleges that Ngcobo and his co-accused, Nkanyazo Ntenza, were “spotters” in knocker-style robberies – that they would go into banks and look for people who were withdrawing large sums from ATMs or at the counter.
They would then allegedly alert gang members who would rob the victims once they had left the bank.
Opposing bail on Wednesday, the investigating officer, Warrant Officer Dhanpal Mundhree, told the court that CCTV footage placed Ngcobo at the various banks.
Mundhree said that once a target was identified by the “spotter”, a message was sent via cellphone to gang members outside the bank.
Referring to the CCTV footage, Mundhree said after a complainant was seen leaving the bank, Ngcobo was allegedly seen making a call. Within minutes, the complainants were robbed at gunpoint.
“Since the arrest of this gang, we have had no reported cases in KZN,” Mundhree said in his affidavit.
Prior to the arrest, he said, three cases a week were reported in the Durban area.
In September, the Daily News reported on the rise in incidents of bank customers being robbed of large sums of money. There had been almost 40 attacks since January.
According to statistics released by the SA Banking Risk Information Centre at the time, there was a 90 percent hike in “follow-home robberies” in KZN.
The statistics revealed that criminal gangs had robbed KZN bank clients of more than R5 million since January by following them to or from banks.
Mundhree told the court on Wednesday that he was opposing bail on the grounds that Ngcobo was allegedly present at all the robberies concerned. If released on bail, he said, the safety of the witnesses would be compromised.
“Some victims have claimed that they were scared to co-operate with police as the suspects knew where they lived.”
Mundhree said he also believed that Ngcobo was a flight risk. He said on the day of his arrest, Ngcobo tried to flee from police, causing a high-speed chase from uMhlanga Ridge to Inanda where he was cornered.
In his statement, Mundhree described the gang as notorious for armed robberies, hijackings and house robberies.
He said it might be in Ngcobo’s best interests to remain in custody, pending his trial, due to the fact that he was the “main link” to the gang and therefore might be in danger.
Investigations were under way and more arrests were pending, he said. Mundhree said this case had received a lot of media attention and even warranted the intervention of the national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega.
In his affidavit in support of his bail application, Ngcobo said that he was the sole breadwinner in his family. But Mundhree informed the court that Ngcobo’s wife was in fact employed by the provincial Treasury as an auditor.
He said Ngcobo’s wife had told the municipality that Ngcobo was in hospital, when in fact he was in custody.
The municipality has launched an internal investigation into Ngcobo’s alleged conduct.
“No action can be taken against him for now,” eThekwini spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said on Wednesday.
“His days in custody will be regarded as leave days.”
Mofokeng said a course of action would be determined once the inquiry had been concluded.
Ntenza, previously released on R5 000 bail, is back in custody awaiting another bail hearing after being arrested on a fresh robbery allegation.
Prosecutor Krishen Shah said the State was considering charging the men with racketeering.
Magistrate Vanitha Armu was expected to make a decision on Ngcobo’s bail application on Thursday. - Daily News