Pretoria - The State has requested that the court deny bail to two men believed to be part of the so-called “Boko Haram” gang, citing fear of intimidation of witnesses and interference with police investigations.
It indicated this stance during the bail application of Babili Meshack Mtswene and Clarence Ngobeni when they appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court yesterday.
Both were arrested on March 18 and face a Schedule 6 offence for armed robbery using a firearm as well as allegedly extorting money from foreign shop owners in Mamelodi and other parts of Pretoria.
Their photos may not be used as the investigating officer indicated in court that they were still to participate in an identity parade.
The State said the likelihood that their release on bail would endanger witnesses was evident given the violent manner used to commit their crimes, also taking into consideration that a shop owner who had refused to comply with the gang’s terms of monthly payment had already been murdered in the area.
The State prosecutor also questioned why the group had an agreement stipulating an exact amount that foreign shop owners had to contribute, irrespective of them making any profit, while no such agreement had been signed with local shop owners.
With the matter being a Schedule 6 offence, the State indicated that the men had failed to provide the court with the exceptional circumstances that permitted their release on bail.
Bronwynne Forbay, the legal representative for both men, said the police had all but ignored information that exonerated the accused in the matter, such as a petition by numerous Somalian and Ethiopian shop owners which was delivered to Mamelodi police.
The petition was said to also contain phone numbers of shop owners who would attest to its veracity, but police were yet to look into it.
Forbay also highlighted the fact that Ngobeni had even gone to the police upon hearing the news of his imminent arrest to enquire, but was practically thrown out of their offices days before he was formally arrested.
It was also brought to the court’s attention that victim statements had allegedly only been obtained four days after the accused’s arrest.
The men were allegedly booked out of the Brooklyn police station and taken around Mamelodi and Pretoria West, where police were looking for complainants. Forbay submitted that they had allegedly heard police having discussions to go and close down some of the foreign-owned shops as they were reluctant to give statements against the accused.
Forbay added that although they were charged with armed robbery, no firearms had been recovered by the police during their arrest, nor during the “unlawful” searches of their respective premises. It was submitted that the duo belonged to the Community First Foundation and were working on a number of projects alongside the foreign shop owners to assist and connect them with their community members, and not extort them, as alleged.
The matter was postponed to today for the outcome of the bail applications. Just last month Mcedisi Ntloko and Sibongile Mabele, also believed to be part of the gang, were granted R10 000 bail each in the same court.