How clever cop work unmasked murky 'kidnap plot'
A businessman's alleged plan to grab a wealthy child for ransom is laid out before Maritzburg court
Elaborate details of how a Pietermaritzburg-based Pakistani businessman allegedly planned to kidnap the daughter of a prominent businessman in East London and demand a R10m ransom were laid bare in court on Monday.
Asif Mohammed, a Pakistani national who runs a cellular and electronics business in Pietermaritzburg, is now facing a charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping after he was arrested last month.
The 47-year-old Pakistani father of two children, aged 11 and 15, appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday for a bail application during which he stated he intended to plead not guilty to the charge against him.
He submitted an affidavit in support of his bail application in which he told the court he had no intention of leaving Pietermaritzburg because his family had “emotional ties” to the city.
He owns a cellular and electronics shop, and makes R10,000 a month from his business. He also told the court he had no pending case or previous convictions, was not a flight risk and had no financial capacity to relocate to another country.
But in his affidavit in opposing bail, investigating officer Warrant Officer Johannes Anthony de Lange revealed elaborate details of how the police investigation had resulted in Mohammed’s arrest.
De Lange said Mohammed rented a shop from an informant in Lesotho and started a business in 1997. The following year, he relocated to East London in the Eastern Cape and kept contact with the informant telephonically.
In January last year, the informant made telephonic contact with Mohammed informing him he was involved in a cellphone business but did not make enough money. Asif allegedly planned to kidnap the daughter of a prominent businessman in East London, whereafter he would demand R10m ransom.
De Lange told the court the informant alleged Mohammed asked him to find a house in Lesotho to keep the kidnapped child in while he negotiated a ransom. The informant reported the kidnapping plan to a Colonel PW van Heerden, operation commander of the Serious Violent Crime DPCI head office in Pretoria.
“An inquiry was opened. The informant did not assist Mohammed with the planned kidnapping of the child of the East London businessman and does not know what happened to the plan,” said De Lange in his affidavit.
He said it was also established that Mohammed had a South African ID number and that in March last year he arrived in Pretoria from East London with his child and flew to Pakistan, and returned to SA in April last year using a Pakistani passport.
Mohammed allegedly contacted the informant at the beginning of August 2018 and informed him he had moved to Pietermaritzburg, where there was a lucrative business in kidnappings.
“He identified a wealthy family and claimed that they could make between R3-4m by kidnapping the daughter. The accused requested the informant to organise people who would kidnap the daughter and take her outside KZN, preferably Lesotho and he would negotiate the ransom,” said De Lange.
He told the court Mohammed allegedly kept on phoning the informant to find out when he was bringing the people “to do the business” and the informant told him he was coming to Pietermaritzburg on September 20.
“The accused told the informant that he would prepare everything so that the job [kidnapping] could be done on the same day,” said De Lange.
On the same day, police launched an undercover investigation in which two police agents were introduced to Mohammed by the informant, who then excused himself from the meeting.
De Lange said the two police agents were able to obtain evidence from the accused after their meetings, which took place in Pietermaritzburg. The agents are expected to testify in the trial.
Asif allegedly supplied the agents with the residential address of the victim that he wanted to have kidnapped and informed them about two more victims’ particulars.
When the agents met Mohammed again on September 28, he allegedly gave them SIM cards that could not be traced by the police to use after the kidnapping.
De Lange said the seriousness of the case should be considered in opposing bail.
“Conspiracy to commit kidnapping, kidnapping is on the increase in our country. The accused’s life is in danger as the community where the accused is trying to establish himself have become aware of what he had planned, and they are angry. The school which the accused’s child attends, a private and wealthy school, have indicated that the parents of the other children in the school are concerned and that they have made it known that they are aware of his identity and what he planned to do.”
De Lange said Mohammed had no fixed assets and that it would be easy for him to dispose of his movable assets and evade trial.
“The state has a very strong case against him, and he could face a lengthy period of imprisonment should he be found guilty,” he said.
The matter was adjourned for Friday for a decision on the bail application.