Airport heist accused ‘tortured‚ threatened’ court hears

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Council for Thando Sonqishe‚ the man who owns a Lamborghini Gallardo‚ Advocate Riaan Gissing on Tuesday told the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court his client was “assaulted‚ tortured and threatened” in front of his wife and child on the afternoon of his arrest last month.

Sonqishe was arrested at his upmarket Blue Valley Golf Estate home by a “large contingent” of police officers after his attorney‚ Victor Nkwashu‚ allegedly made contact with the investigative team to inform them of his client’s intention to hand himself over.

Police last week told the court Sonqishe was believed to have supplied police blue lights for the vehicles used in the robbery‚ a role he was allegedly paid R1 million for.

The allegations against the police were made in an affidavit submitted in support of a formal bail application.

“There is not an iota of evidence to support the bold allegations against our client‚” Gissing said‚ calling the evidence led by the State in opposition to bail by the investigating officer‚ Colonel Samuel Mahlangu of the Hawks‚ “pure speculation”.

Sonqishe has denied all charges against him‚ his attorney arguing that police had no substantial evidence to link him to the crime‚ other than a confession statement obtained by police without his attorney being present.

“The credibility of such a statement will be challenged‚” Gissing said.

“My client further vehemently denies trying to flee when police descended on his home‚” he said‚ quoting his client as follows: “I was assaulted with open hands and booted feet severely to my head and upper body‚ and I was suffocated in water in my own bath after I could not provide information to the police”.

Police last week‚ also by way of affidavit‚ informed the court Sonqishe was seen hiding on his neighbour’s roof after police entered his home and that injuries he sustained were as a result of him resisting arrest.

Gissing disputed this. “My client was interrogated and assaulted in front of his wife and children and he has opened a charge of assault with the Independent Police Investigations Department.”

Gissing argued that the State held only allegations up its sleeve‚ and no tangible evidence. The State countered by maintaining that Sonqishe’s confession statement was not coerced.

“The State maintains that the statement mentioned was not coerced as‚ according to police‚ he resisted arrest and officers were forced to pin him down on the ground to get the handcuffs on‚” said prosecutor Jacob Serebo.

Serebo argued the state indeed had evidence linking Sonqishe to the crime‚ but that the merits of such would be dealt with at the trial stage.

The State was forced to concede‚ however‚ that three warrants of arrest reportedly issued for Sonqishe on other matters before courts in Benoni‚ Midrand and Edenvale and mentioned in in the State’s founding affidavit‚ had yet to be produced into evidence.

“The only reason these warrants are not before the court is‚ I submit‚ because they do not exist‚” Gissing argued.

Another factor likely to seriously affect the State’s case against Sonqishe is allegations that he was not allowed to have his attorney present during the alleged “interrogation” and further that his attorney was prevented from seeing him shortly after his arrest.

Judgement in the matter was reserved and Magistrate Amukelani Msimeki told the court it was likely she would declare her decision on bail for Sonqishe on Friday‚ when he is due to appear again.

Another accused‚ Simon Thlokwane‚ will appear on Friday to launch his formal bail application while a possible judgement is expected on the bail for France Manaka and Sibusiso Job Mnisi‚ both of whose applications were heard in their entirety on Tuesday and Friday last week respectively.

Manaka and Mnisi worked at OR Tambo Airport for Guard Force International‚ a private security company that specialises in the transport of high risk cargo.

The court heard that on the night of the robbery Manaka‚ a vault supervisor for Guard Force‚ allegedly sent SMSs to the other accused to keep them informed and provided a description of the cargo container in which the money was kept – an allegation his attorney strongly denied.

Meanwhile‚ the bail application of the seventh suspect‚ Philukuhle Cosmos Ntansi‚ is due to be heard by the same court on Wednesday‚ while arguments in the bail application of fellow accused Prince Raphael Dube are expected to be concluded on the same day. 

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