Metro

No mercy for fugitive jewel thieves

DURBAN, South Africa – Greed was the motive behind a  multimillion-rand jewellery heist at Gateway Theatre of Shopping in uMhlanga, Durban.

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Magistrate Sifiso Luthuli sentenced fugitive Durban couple Mohamed Billal Sheik, 38, and Zahia Rahaman, 40, to 15 years each behind bars for the brazen heist, saying “greed was the motive.

This followed a dramatic day in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Thursday when both broke down in front of the magistrate after he delivered a guilty judgment, begging and sobbing for leniency for the sake of their children.

Despite being married with three children, Rahaman was in a romantic relationship with Sheik at the time of the heist. They have since had a child together.

The proceedings brought to an end what has been a tumultuous week for the couple who, after having been on the run from authorities for 20 months, were arrested by the Hawks in East London, Eastern Cape, in a joint operation with Durban North SAPS on Monday.

The heist was committed in 2013 when R16million in luxury jewellery and timepieces, as well as R500000 in cash, was stolen from the safe of Cherry Design in the mall.

The theft was carried out by the couple’s two accomplices, Imtiaz Hoosen (Sheik’s brother) and a fourth person who turned State witness.

At the time of the heist, Rahaman was in a romantic relationship with Sheik.

The court heard during the trial, which took place in 2018, that the couple, with Sheik’s brother, Imtiaz Hoosen, and the fourth person planned the theft as Rahaman had access to the keys and security codes at the shop.

At about 7pm on April 16, 2013, Sheik and Rahaman directed the heist operation from a vehicle in the mall’s parking lot, while Imtiaz and the fourth person entered the store, gained access to the safe and stole the jewellery and R500000 in a white envelope. They packed the loot into two bags.

But the same night, Rahaman was taken in by police because it was apparent the heist had “inside” assistance.

Meanwhile, Sheik took the two bags to his grandmother’s house in Pietermaritzburg and hid them under the bed.

During the trial and judgment, it was highlighted that Rahaman made “full admissions” to the police that night and Sheik and Hoosen were arrested the next day. The police recovered about R7m in jewellery, but the remaining jewellery and cash have never been recovered, despite extensive questioning and investigation by police.

Despite continuous delays by the accused for the next five years, during which Rahaman gave birth to Sheik’s child, the trial took place in 2018.

The day before the magistrate was to deliver judgment, Sheik, Rahaman and Hoosen left the court and did not return.

Warrants of arrests were issued for the trio. Hoosen was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

But Sheik and Rahaman had vanished.

Yesterday, at court, private investigator Sean Pierce, who was also on the case with Durban North detective Warrant Officer Vicky Moodley, said the search for the missing couple was relentless.

After a tip-off, the Hawks led a dawn raid on Monday in East London and arrested the missing pair.

In court on Thursday after the guilty judgment, Rahaman broke down into tears in the dock, telling the magistrate, she had fled to East London for the sake of her children, especially her baby daughter.

During a court break, she tried to cut herself with a sharp object from her cosmetic bag, but quick action from the police stopped the attempt.

In written admissions, she said Sheik had pressured her in to handing over the keys and security codes for the store.

“I’ve never done something like this in my life before. I’m sorry for what has happened, but please consider I am a mother. My baby cries every single night now I am not with her.”

Following judgment, Sheik also begged for leniency for Rahaman and despite having entered a not guilty plea, he admitted to putting pressure on Rahaman to give him the keys and codes.

But there was no light shed on what happened to all the jewellery and cash.

State prosecutor Joel Kisten dismissed the accused’s pleas for mercy, saying “the accused are convicted of a very serious offence, housebreaking of R16.5million cannot be scoffed at, the scale of theft is so excessive that it can only be described as thoroughly rapacious.”

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