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Ex-soldier to serve time in Iraq – not SA jail

OMPHITLHETSE MOOKI AND BALDWIN NDABA

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OFF TO FIGHT: Uakereraije Maunda leaves the Johannesburg High court after the court did not refuse his request to serve in Iraq.Picture:Dumisani Dube. Credit: INLSA

A NAMIBIAN convicted for a R100 million robbery at OR Tambo International Airport has asked “to be given another opportunity to protect Iraqis against Taliban insurgents instead of going to jail”.

Uakereraije Maunda, an ex-Koevoet soldier, made the appeal before Judge Nico Coetzee in the Johannesburg High Court yesterday following his conviction on a lesser count of being an accessory after the fact.

Maunda was not part of the robbery on March 25, 2006, but the high court found that he had assisted his now dead uncle, Tjindunda Uakotoka, to get rid of the cash stolen at the airport.

His plea came minutes after Judge Coetzee ruled that Chris Billings, who had allegedly tried to skip the country, had masterminded the heist.

Judge Coetzee said Billings had organised the first crew for the armed robbery, but his plans had fallen apart.

“Afterwards, you then rekindled another group. I find that Billings was the mastermind of the robbery. He was leader of the second group. He must be convicted of robbery with aggravating circumstances,” said Judge Coetzee.

The judge also dismissed Billings’s claims that he had not got a fair trial after Legal Aid SA rejected his application for representation.

“Accused 12 is an intelligent person. His cross-examination of witnesses was to the point. In my view, he was not prejudiced by lack of an attorney. This court also assisted him. In my view, his complaint that he has not had a fair trial is without merit,” Judge Coetzee said.

Maunda’s plea for a lesser sentence held the public gallery’s attention. He has spent six years in jail awaiting trial and was released on bail

last May.

“I used to work in Iraq as a VIP (protector). I used to protect Iraqis against Taliban insurgents. Even given a chance, I would return to Iraq and do the same job. I can also go to Somalia and fight against piracy.

“I can also go to Afghanistan to protect the people,” Maunda said.

He told the court he had come to SA in 1990 before Namibia’s independence and secured a job in the SAPS’s stock theft unit in Kimberley. Maunda said he had gone to Iraq after 1994.

The State did not object to the request.

Fox Sithole, Eddie Ubisi and Ronny Mbuyisa were found guilty of attempted robbery.

They were convicted last month for a similar heist in KwaZulu-Natal as members of the infamous “KZN 26” at the Phongola High Court. They are serving life terms.

The trial continues.

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