'Badly presented' case frees 8 heist accused

By Candes Keating

Bungling by prosecutors and police has allowed eight men accused of a notorious R1,8-million cashvan heist in Constantia to walk free.

Wynberg regional court magistrate Fransie Mouton acquitted the men on Monday, saying the case had been badly put together.

The State alleged that the eight, armed with pistols and automatic rifles, rammed four stolen or hijacked vehicles into the cashvan on the M3 at about 9am on August 27, 2002.

Those freed include Lunga Luke, 25, who was wounded in a Groote Schuur Hospital escape bid in March that left a prison warder dead. Another is Gcinikhaya Makoma, 26, who was granted amnesty by the TRC for the St James Church massacre in Kenilworth in 1993.

The attackers ambushed a Standard Bank cashvan at the foot of Wynberg Hill in Constantia and a high-speed car chase followed.

Traffic officer James "Budgie" Maidstone was shot and injured, another traffic officer was treated for shock, and the driver of the cashvan was pistol-whipped.

At the time police said they believed 15 men had been involved in the attack.

The other accused were Poyo Gobo, Charles Sigabi, Tokiso Sithole, Zola Dadani, Vuyo Nyabaza and Kwanele Maga.

They were charged with attempted murder, armed robbery, theft of motor vehicles and illegal possession of firearms.

Mouton said on Monday: "This case was badly presented."

During the course of the trial, several State prosecutors had been assigned to work on the case and 20 witnesses had testified.

Mouton said what bothered her most about the case was that a former investigating officer, Andrew van der Walt, had falsified documents to speed up the process.

Van der Walt, who has since left the police, had allegedly taken a witness's statement by phone and signed it on behalf of the witness.

Testifying on Monday, Van der Walt told the court he had not wanted to do anything fraudulent, and had planed to re-write the statement and have the witness sign it later.

Mouton said records dealing with Van der Walt would be sent to the director of public prosecution "for consideration".

Another police officer, who was supposed to record details at scene of the heist, had lost various police records she had made.

The five lawyers representing the men questioned the police work and said the State had failed to produce any evidence linking their clients to the charges. All requested an acquittal.

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