South Africa charges Czech gold dealer with gangland violence

Reuters
Radovan Krejcir, a Czech fugitive and businessman looks on during his court appearance on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder at the Palm Ridge court, east of Johannesburg
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Radovan Krejcir (L), a Czech fugitive and businessman looks on during his court appearance on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder at the Palm Ridge court, east of Johannesburg December 2 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: CRIME LAW)

By Peroshni Govender

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A Czech gold and diamond dealer who has been evading police for eight years was charged with a gangland-style attempted murder and kidnapping in a South African court on Monday.

Radovan Krejcir, 45, who is also wanted in the Czech Republic on multiple counts of fraud, pleaded not guilty as he applied for bail, and alleged he had been tortured with electric shocks while in police custody.

South African media gave blanket coverage to his arrest last week amid reports that he had been running rings round police for years. National police chief Riah Phiyega took the unusual step of announcing his arrest in person.

Local media have linked Krejcir to a series of underworld murders in Johannesburg and Cape Town in the last three years, although he has denied involvement in any of the cases.

He narrowly avoided death in July, when shotguns welded into the boot of a stolen car were fired at him by remote control in the car park of his Money Point gold and diamond exchange in Johannesburg.

Last month, two people were killed in a bomb blast at Money Point.

Prosecution documents cast the millionaire, who is also fighting extradition to his homeland, as the boss of a thriving criminal network with multiple police informants on its payroll.

Krejcir looked confident as he sat in the dock in jeans, T-Shirt and tailored jacket, beside South African co-accused Desai Lupondo and two policemen, who the state alleges were used as freelance debt collectors.

Prosecutor Letabo Mashiane alleged that Krejcir and Lupondo had planned to ship 24 million rand ($2.4 million) worth of the narcotic crystal meth to Australia with the help of a customs officer identified only as 'Doctor'.

When the shipment failed to materialize and Doctor disappeared, Lupondo and the two policemen abducted his brother in an attempt to draw Doctor into the open and recover the drugs, he told the court.

"Krejcir wanted to kill him so that Doctor could attend the funeral and be kidnapped," Mashiane said.

Doctor's brother, who has not been named, was tortured for four days, during which time Krejcir poured boiling water over him at Money Point, he added.

Krejcir fled the Czech Republic in 2005 during a police raid on his home.

He arrived in South Africa in 2007 under a false identity, and has applied for asylum, saying his life will be in danger if he is sent home.

($1 = 10.1666 South African rand)

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Kevin Liffey)

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