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Relatives broke down in tears as six of the seven men convicted for the brazen R100 million heist at the OR Tambo International Airport were sentenced to jail terms ranging from eight to 22 years.

Gang members themselves retained their composure on Friday as Judge Nico Coetzee wrapped up the trial that spanned six years and saw 67 witnesses testifying.

Kingpin among the convicts, Christopher Billings, was sentenced to 22 years for planning the heist, recruiting members and organising meetings.

Earlier on Friday he admitted for the first time he had played a role, pocketing just over R1 million and a further R305 000 which the police found on him at his June 2006 arrest.

“I was involved but I didn’t plan it. I was (only) asked to avail my place for meetings by (Nazir) Ishmail. I wasn’t physically at the airport,” he told the court shortly before Judge Coetzee handed down his sentence.

Asked if he attended any meetings where the robbery was planned, Billings said “only one”. None of the six men convicted with him had been at that meeting.

Members of the infamous “KZN 26” that carried out cash heists in KZN – Fox Sithole and Eddie Ubisi – were sentenced to eight years along with Bongani Mbuyisa. The trio had only been convicted for attempted robbery with aggravating circumstances as the judge found they had only been involved in the planning stages, not the actual heist. Sithole and Ubisi were last month sentenced to life terms in the Phongola High Court for murder, attempted murder and aggravated robbery related to the heists.

Thokozani Ziqubu, who is serving a 20-year jail term for the murder of Israeli diamond dealer Michel Rubinek was jailed to 18 years while Ananias Nefumembe was given 16 years.

Judge Coetzee elected not to consider Sithole, Ubisi and Ziqubu’s convictions as they are in the process of applying for leave to appeal.

The only man to walk free on Friday following the acquittal of Cecil Arendse last week was Namibian Uakareraije Maunda, whose involvement was through money he was transporting to Namibia for his uncle Tjinduda Uakotoka.

Uakotoka, who has since died, was among the gang members arrested.

The ex-Koevoet soldier told the Saturday Star on Friday that he would be leaving in the next few weeks or months to “protect Iraqis against Taliban insurgents”.

Convicted for being an accessory to the crime, Maunda pleaded with Judge Coetzee on Thursday not to impose direct imprisonment as he wished to go and fight Taliban insurgents, Somali pirates or even protect people in Afghanistan.

The State did not object to his request as he had already spent six years in jail awaiting trial.

Judge Coezee ordered that his judgment be typed to allow lawyers representing the men to go through it as they had indicated they would apply for leave to appeal.

Saturday Star