Durban - A successful bid bid to preserve a luxury car worth more than R500 000 allegedly used by the man dubbed the “Woolworths looter” was made by the State in the Durban High Court on Friday.
The National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) held the view that Mbuso Moloi used the Mercedes-Benz C300 Coupe to commit his alleged crimes.
The AFU accordingly filed a “preservation of property” application because the vehicle was used as an instrument in the crimes committed, which was granted.
But when approached for comment at his Pinetown home on Saturday, Moloi denied that his car had been “seized” and said he was unable to comment further.
His attorney, Mfanafuthi Biyela, also claimed to have no knowledge of such action.
Video footage of Moloi, 30, apparently exiting a Woolworths store in Glenwood, and needing two hands to carry a fully loaded shopping basket as he crossed Bulwer Road before getting into the parked car in July, was widely circulated on social media platforms.
He handed himself over to police on July 28 and now faces theft and public violence charges relating to the looting of the Woolworths store.
Moloi was granted R5000 bail and is due back in the dock in the Durban Regional Court in October.
However, Friday’s court proceedings was a civil matter and was heard ex parte, meaning only one party was present (the applicant, the AFU) and presented written evidence to support the application.
The presiding judge made the ruling with the understanding that the written evidence before him was presented in good faith.
Moloi now has 90 days to challenge the order, failing which the car, said to be worth R507 000, will be forfeited to the State.
Advocate Ouma Rabaji, national head of the AFU, explained that preservation orders were basically “freezing orders” and were in accordance with the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
Rabaji said these laws were instituted in 1998 to combat more sophisticated levels of crime, and it was consistent with what countries around the world used to tackle organised crime.
“We have signed international obligations with regards to such crimes.“
She police had to first investigate the alleged crime and once criminality was established, a preservation application can be made.
In Moloi’s matter, the AFU believes the car was used in the commission of a crime, which was to carry away the goods.
Rabaji said the matter was measured on a balance of probabilities, based on affidavits from the investigating officer in the matter (Warrant Officer Francois Esterhuizen) and Kenneth Mark Samuels, the deputy director of public prosecutions, which were handed to the court.
The judge had to determine whether the relevant criteria to grant the order had been met.
“The high court deemed it relevant to freeze the asset as our case was established on paper.”
Moloi could file papers and oppose Friday’s outcome. “But we presented a solid case. Besides, the car was seen all over social media and TV.”
She confirmed that once the 90-day period elapsed, the AFU would file for the complete forfeiture of the vehicle.
“We will sell the vehicle and the proceeds will be put into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (Cara).
Money in this account is earmarked for the benefit of the country’s various crime-fighting agencies.“
Rabaji promised that similar action will be taken against other accused who used vehicles to carry looted goods.
When Moloi was asked about the car’s whereabouts and whether he would challenge the preservation order, he said: “I don't know anything about any car being seized. What are you talking about? I’m looking forward to my next court date on 12 October.”
Biyela said he had not received any information about the preservation matter. “I cannot comment on something that has not been brought to my attention. I can confirm that my office has not received any information regarding my client’s car being seized,” said Biyela.
Samuels said in his affidavit that on July 12 the manager of the Woolworths store, who is the complainant in the criminal matter, received images and a video of a male walking away from his outlet with a basket filled with items, which he then loaded into a silver Mercedes-Benz.
Investigations revealed that it was Moloi in the footage. He confirmed on a social media platform that it was him in the video and said he wanted to buy bread and milk and wanted to know whether he had to pay the person who took the video.
Moloi’s mobile number was also displayed in the social media post.
In a media interview, Moloi said he had merely gathered items lying outside the store and said that he went to the shops with his sister in the Mercedes-Benz that belonged to his father when they had encountered looters at the store. All he picked up was some milk, juice and washing powder lying outside, he said.
Esterhuizen observed that a video of the incident showed Moloi entering the store and exiting with a full shopping basket.
The police officer said Moloi’s version was at odds with what he had established during an interview with his sister. She said she was at home with her parents and never ventured out on the day in question.
Esterhuizen said that his investigations confirmed Moloi as the owner of the Mercedes-Benz. Its purchase was financed by Standard Bank and it was in the accused’s name.
The car’s tracking system confirmed the car was in the vicinity of the store at the time it was looted.
Therefore, the car was seized on the basis that it had been used in the commission of a crime.
Police then made arrangements to seize the vehicle and on July 31, Moloi’s father handed possession of the vehicle to Warrant Officer Rajendranath Nagesar at a police station in Isipingo.
Nagesar is a member of the investigating team.