Cape Town - A suspected serial sex offender wanted in Britain, who has been living in Cape Town for nearly 15 years, was cleared to remain here by local police just a day before he was arrested.
It emerged in court this week that less than a month after British authorities told their South African counterparts they planned to try to extradite Lee Tucker, 52, he was given police clearance when applying for a visa to remain in South Africa.
Police have since deemed Tucker a fugitive.
Officers swooped on him at his Green Point home last Friday and arrested him using a warrant authorised by a magistrate in Pretoria.
Tucker, a commercial pilot, made his first court appearance on Tuesday.
During his second appearance on Thursday in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court sitting in the community court, he was expected to have applied for bail.
Instead, his legal team argued whether the charges he faced were in fact crimes in South Africa and whether these charges still stood given the amount of time that had lapsed since Tucker allegedly committed them.
In October 2000, at the Swansea Crown Court, Tucker was convicted in absentia and sentenced to an effective eight years in jail for sexual crimes involving young men he allegedly carried out in the 1980s.
He appealed against this while he was out of the country; a judgment said Tucker insisted his solicitors appeal it even though they did not know where he was.
Two years after being found guilty the convictions were quashed.
But a retrial was ordered and Tucker, who was still out of the country, was ordered to remain in custody pending this.
Tucker’s version is that his father had called to tell him about the acquittal, not the retrial.
An affidavit by Willem Jacobus van der Merwe, a police warrant officer stationed at Interpol’s extradition desk in Pretoria, was handed up to the court on Thursday.
It said Tucker was wanted on 42 counts of indecent assault in the UK.
In the affidavit, Van Der Merwe said it was not in the public’s interest to release Tucker on bail.
“It is submitted (he) is a fugitive from justice and has been such for the past 15 years...
“It is submitted that (he) is a flight risk.”
It was expected that Tucker would try to flee again.
“(Tucker) previously fled when he saw the writing on the wall and harsh sentence awaiting him upon his return to the United Kingdom.”
Van Der Merwe said Tucker also had previous convictions, relating to indecent acts performed with children, from a 1993 case in Portugal.
During Thursday’s proceedings Tucker’s legal representative, Reuben Liddell, instructed by attorney Leon van der Merwe, denied his client was a fugitive.
He said it appeared Tucker was wanted in the UK on 42 counts of indecent assault, but this was no longer a classified type of crime in South Africa.
Indecent assault is now classified as sexual assault.
“The first hurdle the State must cross is that… there is no punishment without a law,” Liddell said.
He argued that because more than 20 years had lapsed since the alleged crimes were committed, they had become prescribed.
Liddell said it was expected that Home Affairs would now label Tucker an “undesirable”.
But he said Tucker had a business in South Africa registered in his name.
Liddell referred to a letter from the UK, dated February 25, saying authorities there planned to try to extradite Tucker.
He said that on January 16 this year, while applying for a spouse visa for himself via an immigration practitioner, Tucker had been told he needed two documents for this – a police clearance and proof that he had a spouse.
The immigration officer applied for the police clearance for Tucker.
“It was received on March 17, the day before his arrest,” Liddell said.
The case has now been postponed to next month. Until then, Tucker will be detained at the Sea Point police station.
What Tucker is charged with:
The crimes Lee Tucker is accused of are detailed in an affidavit by Willem Jacobus van der Merwe, a police warrant officer stationed at Interpol’s extradition desk in Pretoria.
It says that in the early 1980s Tucker and at least three other young men frequented a home opposite a school in South Wales. In 1999 two of the three alleged they were sexually abused, while a third became Tucker’s co-accused. This co-accused was later found guilty.
Included in the incidents detailed in the affidavit was that Tucker allegedly had sex with one of the complainants, who was also “given drink and drugs” and made to have anal sex with another young man.
This complainant was also allegedly “traded” with another boy over a few weeks.
Another document handed up in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court, sitting in the community court, said Tucker was found guilty of crimes including indecency with a child and taking indecent photographs of children in Portugal in 1993.
He was banned from Portugal for seven years.