KwaZulu-Natal - Police are on the hunt for a man who has been hiring out a range of police paraphernalia, including guns, bulletproof vests, blue lights and sirens, to a dangerous crime syndicate operating in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Police arrested two members of a Gauteng-based gang in Durban, while the fake police car was recovered after a gunfight involving the Ladysmith Tactical Response Team when other gang members carried out two robberies in Ladysmith. The six men in the car escaped by running into bush next to the N3.
A stolen Golf GTI was recovered, which had been decked out as a Gauteng Flying Squad vehicle, complete with identical markings and blue lights. It also had the original police emblem, Crime Stop number and false plates.
The suspects had police assault rifles and pistols, police said.
Police believed the gang to be implicated in at least three cases in the province where they robbed wealthy businessmen on their way to and from work, said the head of the Durban Organised Crime Unit (Serious and Violent Crimes), Colonel Eddie van Rensburg.
There were links to similar cases in Gauteng.
He said on Monday they had received a tip-off that the gang had split, and some of them had gone to Ladysmith.
He said the gang members posed as police officers, travelling in the stolen Golf GTI and a BMW, both with police markings.
The man who hires out the police gear, including police reflector jackets and two-way radios, is believed to be from Soweto. He is also believed to do the police markings on stolen vehicles for a substantial fee. Police are investigating how he got the gear and branding.
The two arrested in Mayville lived in Mamelodi, Pretoria, but operated in KZN.
The gang had previously robbed a Chinese businessman at his Westville home. Van Rensburg said the suspects had followed him from his shop in Pinetown.
“When he closed shop, the suspects followed him for a short distance, before pulling him over. They were travelling in a Golf GTI that had police markings on it. They appeared to know the exact movements of the businessman.”
The suspects, wearing police reflector jackets, told the businessman they wanted to search his vehicle for suspected stolen goods. The man was then told to drive to his home. At the house the suspects produced guns and robbed the man of an undisclosed amount of cash, a laptop and other valuables.
The suspects then went to Ladysmith, where a Chinese businessman and another family were hit.
Van Rensburg said the family were confronted by four robbers in police uniforms at their home. The men said they were investigating a 2010 robbery at the house and even carried a police docket.
Once inside, the family were robbed of jewellery, a firearm and money. Witnesses told police the suspects had fled in a Golf GTI, with police markings.
Van Rensburg said the suspects were not policemen.
The fleeing suspects were confronted by police on the N3, travelling towards Harrismith. Police soon realised that the suspects were listening in on police radios and stopped using them. A gunfight ensued and the suspects ran into the QwaQwa area.
Van Rensburg said that during the shoot-out, they received information that the BMW was still in KZN. “We followed several leads, and two suspects were arrested at an abandoned house in Mayville.”
The gang comprised nine suspects – seven from Gauteng and two from Durban, Van Rensburg said.
He said the two men arrested in Durban were expected to appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday. One of the suspects, who tried to escape from police, was in hospital with a broken ankle.
Van Rensburg confirmed that a hunt was on for the man from Soweto, who was believed to be hiring out police equipment and gear to criminals. “Once the job is done, the criminals return the stuff to him,” Van Rensburg said.
“They hire it again when they are due to make another hit.”