11/04/2012 William (King of Bling) Mbatha is escorted by the Tactical Response Unit after he was sentenced to thirty five (35) years at Johannesburg High Court. Picture: Phill Magakoe

 Only two years ago he was the toast of the town, rubbing shoulders with the likes of US music stars R Kelly and Akon and hosting some of the biggest parties in Pretoria has ever seen.

But on Wednesday convicted crime boss William “King of Bling” Mbatha was sentenced to a total of 113 years, which will see him serving an effective 35 years in prison.

Even while facing a hefty jail sentence, Mbatha’s fashion sense did not desert him as he arrived dressed to the nines in a matching tie, jacket and shoes.

But it all came crushing down as Acting Judge Naren Pandya handed down the sentence. However, this does not signal the end of his problems as he still faces an array of charges for crimes allegedly committed in Germiston and in the city.

Mbatha was handed the hefty sentence on Wednesday after being found guilty earlier this year for crimes including robbery with aggravating circumstances, illegal possession of a firearm, pretending to be a police officer, kidnapping and unlawful wearing of a police uniform.

The charges arose from a spate of robberies Mbatha and his accomplices committed at the homes of wealthy businessmen in the Joburg area.

The modus operandi was based on collecting information about his targets and robbing them while pretending to be police officers.

The crimes were carried out by the gang wearing police uniforms, producing fake police appointment cards and flashing police blue lights.

Throughout his trial the court heard how some of Mbatha’s victims had been tortured in their homes, with some being suffocated with plastic bags over their heads.

Through this life of crime Mbatha accumulated his short-lived wealth, which had him enjoying the finer things in life.

He earned the nickname “King of Bling” from his lavish lifestyle – driving expensive vehicles, including a Lamborghini, BMW X5 and Harley Davidson motorbikes on the dusty township streets of Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria.

The 38-year-old Mbatha, whose luxury home in Irene, Centurion, was attached by the Asset Forfeiture Unit last month, was a regular at exclusive night clubs in Joburg.

His life was defined by his reputation for expensive clothing and a taste for expensive Moët champagne, pictures of which circulated for months on social networking sites, including Facebook.

Judge Pandya said he had considered Mbatha’s personal circumstances, the seriousness of his crimes and the interests of society in determining his sentence.

This included the fact that Mbatha had told the court through his lawyer during mitigation of sentence that he was not remorseful and maintained his innocence regarding the crimes.

Judge Pandya also considered how Mbatha’s victims had been terrorised during the robberies, some of which were committed during broad daylight.

“It is clear that each of these robberies was pre-planned. There is no doubt about the pre-planning, which includes obtaining the flashing lights and the police uniforms that were used,” said Pandya.

Mbatha was slapped with a sentence of 15 years for each of the five robberies he was convicted of, and five-year terms for each of the four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm.

He was also given five-year terms for each of the three counts of kidnapping that he was convicted of, six months for each of the three counts of pretending to be a police officer and another six months for each of the three counts of unlawfully wearing police uniform.

When the Pretoria News asked Mbatha on Wednesday what he thought of his sentence, all the relaxed-looking socialite would say was: “Ask my lawyer”.

Three unidentified men and a woman believed to be a relative of his were in court to support Mbatha on Wednesday, but his wife Yvonne was conspicuous by her absence.

As news of Mbatha’s sentence spread on Wednesday, one of his long-time aides and close friend Ditlhakiso Mothabela was adamant that Mbatha had been prejudiced during his trial.

“Mbatha was found guilty even before the trial started. In one instance the complainant (Ismail Yacoob) Omar pointed out William’s cousin in court saying he was one of the people who robbed him.

“He was lying and the poor guy spent weeks in jail for nothing. Omar was not a credible witness, how could they rely on his evidence when he was pointing out wrong people,” said Mothabela.

He also questioned the credibility of the identity parades where Mbatha was identified by witnesses as the man who had committed the robberies.

“His face was splashed on the front pages of newspapers. So the witnesses just identified the man they saw in the papers.

“This whole trial was flawed and should have been declared a mistrial a long time ago.

“We must also not ignore the fact that the media spoiled the trial because of what they were writing and identifying Mbatha, which prejudiced him,” said Mothabela.

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Pretoria News