Wouter Viljoen made a brief appearance in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. Picture: Danie van der Lith
Kimberley - More suspects, including a Kimberley resident with “an impressive criminal record”, have been arrested in connection with a nationwide syndicate that allegedly defrauded unsuspecting victims out of millions of rands.

Wouter Viljoen, who is believed to have been convicted of nearly 50 previous offences, made a brief appearance in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, where he became the fifth accused. They are all due back in court next Thursday.

Viljoen and his four co-accused - Trevor Mohapi, Andrew George, Maria Martins and Jonas Riet - are facing multiple charges of kidnapping, fraud, theft, impersonating a police official and extortion and could be joined by even more suspects, who are said to be part of a syndicate that has been active in various parts of the country, particularly in the Northern Cape, as police continue their investigation.

Viljoen handed himself over to the investigating officer on Monday after members of the SAPS appealed to the public for help in finding six more suspects, including Viljoen, who were arrested in Bloemfontein on similar charges last month. The matter was, however, removed from the court roll.

On Wednesday, prosecutor Cornelia Deetlefs said that additional charges were likely to be brought against the accused as she requested that his case be combined with that of his co-accused and that bail be denied until the group’s next appearance on October 12.

Viljoen is the most recent arrest connected to the syndicate after two additional suspects - Isak Cupido and Andre Pillay - were taken into custody last week.

Following his arrest, Cupido, a convicted thief and fraudster, briefly appeared before Magistrate Lance Roach on Friday, when his wife, Magdalena, requested his release, stating that he needed constant medical assistance and had to undergo dialysis four times a day.

This came a few days after Riet, a pastor from Ritchie with three previous theft convictions, along with Elliot Sebuzo and Tuelo Pitso, were unsuccessful in their bail application in the Jan Kempdorp Magistrate’s Court on separate, but syndicate-related, charges of theft, impersonating a law enforcement official and kidnapping.

Last week, Pillay also handed himself over before making a brief appearance in the Hopetown Magistrate’s Court.

With the exception of Martins, who has been released on bail, the other accused remain in custody and have previous convictions for offences similar to the charges they are currently facing.

Mohapi has previously been found guilty of robbery and assault and also has as a conviction for reckless and negligent driving. George has also been convicted of theft, fraud and crimen injuria.

However, the list of past convictions of his co-accused pail in comparison to that of Viljoen, whose criminal record was described as “impressive” in the Pretoria High Court during an unrelated trial in 2011.

At the time, Viljoen was serving time for his involvement in a syndicate that advertised used or repossessed vehicles but failed to deliver once payment had been received.

In his ruling in 2011, Judge John Murphy, highlighted that, at the time, the admission form of the Kimberley Correctional Centre reflected that Viljoen had no less than 47 previous convictions and he said that Viljoen had “lived a life of crime since the 1980s” and had been out on parole with a number of outstanding warrants, in various jurisdictions, against him at the time of his arrest in February 2011.

Murphy’s judgment also said that Viljoen had worked as a paid police informant who had provided statements incriminating several suspects in the “Boeremag trial” following conversations that he overheard while in prison in 2004.

Meanwhile, the investigating officer who is looking into the syndicate, Captain Essie Esterhuizen, of the provincial SAPS anti-corruption unit, reiterated law enforcement’s request for members of the public to help.

Any person who believes that they might have been a victim as per this modus operandi is requested contact Captain Esterhuysen on 082 469 1813 and Warrant Officer Bongani Msuthwana on 076 911 7033.

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