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Durban - A Durban police unit used cellphone technology to track and arrest a man in Cape Town for death threats, abusive calls and extortion demands to former police commissioner Bheki Cele.
The man allegedly said that he had been hired as a hitman, and demanded more money from Cele not to kill him. Cele said on Thursday night that he knew his head was worth more than R3 000.
Until police finalise their investigation, Cele is not taking any chances – he has stepped up security around his home and family.
A 24-year-old Nigerian national, who allegedly threatened and verbally abused Cele for almost a month, was arrested in Cape Town this week by the KZN Specific Crimes Task Team.
He was tracked to an upmarket complex in Tableview, using cellphone technology.
Speaking from Johannesburg on Thursday night, Cele said he was at his Umhlanga home watching television with his wife when he received the first call on December 17.
“This guy with a strong foreign accent was on the line. He said he had been hired to kill me. At first I was taken aback, but did not panic or show my alarm. In fact my wife, who was sitting right next to me, did not even know what was happening.”
He said the man cut the call, but called back several more times.
“I eventually called him and told him to stop playing games with me. He told me to call him back after 10 minutes. I refused. He became very aggressive and began calling me some very, very bad names ... ones I cannot mention.
“I would have been mad not to take him seriously ... he wanted to kill me,” he said.
“He warned me not to go to the police or I would be dead. He also threatened to kill my family. He said he had been paid money to kill me. I was listening very carefully to what he was saying.”
Cele said the man demanded R4 000 not to carry out the hit.
“He said the man who had hired him had paid him R3 000 to kill me.
That’s when I became a little suspicious and started to think he was an extortionist. Is my head only worth R3 000? No ways. It should be much, much more.”
After the call ended he went to the Durban North Police Station and reported the incident.
“I worked with police to give them as many leads as possible. The man had given me banking details and I went to Gateway where I deposited R4 000 into the Nedbank account.”
The man called him back and told Cele he was a good man and he was not going to kill him.
“He said he would rather kill the man who hired him. He then demanded more money. I told him to tell me who the kingpin was.”
The man demanded R5 000 more.
“I told him I did not have any more money. Then all hell broke lose. He started shouting and screaming and calling me very bad names. I remained calm and just listened to him.”
Cele said he told the man that if he told him who the kingpin was, he would deposit the money into his account.
“He was not convinced and continued to threaten me. He said his boys were all over the country... even outside my house. He warned again that if I went to the police they would wipe out my family.”
The calls continued for three weeks, night and day.
“He would call me at midnight, 4am, at lunchtime... in fact whenever he felt like it.
“He eventually told me I would have to pay him R2 000 every month as protection money or I would die.”
The caller also bombarded him with abusive SMSes.
“I have seen (the suspect) and spoken to him. He is a youngster. I think he has agreed to plead guilty just to protect the syndicate he is working for. But I am not taking any chances. Security will remain tight around my home and family.
“(Death threats) have happened many times before. But I cannot be a wimp and cry about it to my wife. I have stay cool and calm. That attitude is what helped police nab this guy,” he said.
“In fact when my wife heard the real story she was shocked. She could not believe she did not know a thing, even though she was sitting next to me.”
The banking details the 24-year-old man gave Cele to deposit the money belongs to a woman from Cape Town. Police could not locate her at the informal settlement the bank had as her home address.
A source close to the investigation said the man had three cellphones and seven sim cards. Cele’s cellphone number had been stored on one phone, the source said.
The source said they were investigating the possibility that the Nigerian was linked to an international syndicate targeting wealthy South Africans.
“There were lots and lots of numbers stored on the cellphones. But the phone bookappeared to be coded. For instance, one of the numbers was stored as ‘whitewoman’.”
The suspect has appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on charges of intimidation and extortion.
The suspect could not give police give passport or travel documents, the source said. The suspect’s phone has been sent to the police cyber-crimes unit for analysis.