An illegally occupied building in the Johannesburg inner city. File photo: ANA/Siphelele Dludla

Johannesburg - Johannesburg's "most wanted property hijacker" and his two alleged accomplices, implicated in eight cases of property hijacking in the city, have been arrested, City of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba said on Saturday.

The three would appear in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on January 4, he said.

"It is alleged that this kingpin approached unsuspecting tenants residing in properties around Joburg and introduced himself as an investigator. He would then state that the true owners of the properties were hijackers and that the tenants should not co-operate with them. Further, he would instruct the tenants not to pay any rent to the owners but to him instead."

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The same modus operandi was used earlier this year when the alleged kingpin and his co-accused attempted to hijack a building in Jeppestown. The owners of the property informed the city’s group forensic and investigation services (GFIS) unit which roped in the Hawks and successfully handed back the property, which was hijacked for a day, Mashaba said.

The owners had obtained an eviction order and it was alleged that the kingpin assisted the evicted illegal occupiers to hijack the property again. A scuffle ensued between security personnel and the illegal occupants, shots were fired, and two people were injured in the process.

It was also alleged that in the past, the alleged kingpin had also used the services of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) to be escorted to properties he wanted to hijack, under the pretense that he was working closely with the city in investigating hijacked buildings.

The GFIS, working together with law enforcement agencies, such as the South African Police Service (SAPS), was at an advanced stage of investigating a number of cases in which the alleged kingpin was implicated.

"The kingpin has been convicted of fraud before and was also found guilty of impersonating a police officer; he has a 157-page criminal profile. It is alleged that he has been operating throughout the country and has criminal cases in Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, and in the Western Cape."

Hijacked properties were a major problem in the city, but "we are pleased with the progress we are making in addressing these challenges", Mashaba said. 

"Eleven hijacked properties have been handed back to their rightful owners and we have also arrested three property hijackers in the last three weeks. About 164 buildings are confirmed as hijacked in the city.

"The city will not leave any stone unturned when dealing with criminal activities within its area of jurisdiction. We are committed to ensuring that we stop the rot in our inner city and make it a prosperous and inclusive place for our people to live, work, and play," Mashaba said.

African News Agency/ANA