A plot to kidnap children of high profile businessmen in Pietermaritzburg was foiled over the weekend. The suspect, a Pakistani businessman, living and working in Pietermaritzburg, appeared briefly in the magistrate’s court on Monday morning.
This comes in the wake of several kidnappings and attempted kidnappings throughout the province.
Advocate Dawn Coleman-Malinga, who heads up the Human Trafficking, Harmful Traditional Practices, Prostitution, Pornography and Brothels Task Team in KwaZulu-Natal, speaking at a local school over the weekend, said human trafficking was one of the world’s fastest growing criminal activities.
Emphatic that there was no 24-hour-rule to abide by when reporting missing children, Coleman-Malinga said once a person had made every effort to locate their child, they should immediately go to the police and open a case. (Read Coleman-Malinga’s advice to parents later in the story)
She said surprisingly in many instances, people were trafficked by those known to them.
The court appearance of 47-year-old Pakistani , Asif Mohammed, has sent shockwaves through the community.
Mohammed, is believed to the mastermind behind a plot to kidnap children of high profile businessmen in Pietermaritzburg and faces charges of conspiracy to kidnap.
Mohammed was arrested by two undercover police officers in a joint operation by the Pietermaritzburg Director of Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI), the KZN Electronic Surveillance Unit and the Intelligence Collection head office on Friday afternoon at his business premises (a cellphone and electronics shop) on Church Street.
State prosecutor Rene Padayachee asked that bail be opposed for the following reasons: to verify if Mohammed was in the country legally, the seriousness of the offence, and the safety of state witnesses.
“The accused had told the undercover agents that a ransom of R5 million was to be asked for once they had the victim.”
The two police agents from the Multi-Dimensional Crime Intelligence (MDOC) obtained the last evidence regarding the planned kidnapping of the son of a Pietermaritzburg businessman.
Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi spokesperson for the Hawks said, several undercover operations were conducted where the suspect allegedly gave a detailed description of his first target, the safe house where the victim would be held as well as other electronic tools that would have been utilised during and after the alleged kidnapping.
“The suspect allegedly provided detailed plans of how the kidnappings would be executed and how to use the instruments, before the kidnapping was foiled by the Hawks and Crime Intelligence early intervention. The suspect was arrested at his business premises. Additional arrests and charges are possible in the ongoing investigation.”
A police source close to the investigation said Mohammed was the ‘main brain’ behind the conspiracy to kidnap. “Mohammed gave the undercover agents a packet with about 20 international sim cards that would have been used to execute the planned kidnapping. He wrote the name and details of the first victim and gave precise details on how the kidnapping would be carried out,” said the source.
Mohammed will be held in custody at the New Prison until his formal bail application on October 15.
Other Pakistani businessmen in Church Street claimed to have no knowledge of Mohammed or his arrest.
“We don’t know who he is. We don’t know what he does,” said one Pakistani businessman who also runs a cellphone business.
A 15-year-old girl, who claimed to be Mohammed’s daughter, was running his business in his absence.
The girl, who refused to divulge her name, said she was aware of the allegations against her father and his arrest.
She claimed both she and her father were South African citizens – and that she had been born and raised in the country.
The girl refused to comment further.
ADVICE TO PARENTS
Addressing parents on human-trafficking, Coleman-Malinga said the modus-operandi, of traffickers, was varied with people being lured by advertisements for work, overseas job recruitment with good pay and accommodation; as well as spotters combing social media for vulnerable people with drug and alcohol dependencies.
“In some instances, they actually go to the extent of kidnapping a person and threaten to harm their family and friends if they do not co-operate with them,” said Coleman-Malinga.
Cautioning against exposing children on social media, Coleman-Malinga said syndicates trawled the internet looking for children with specific features as per their client’s requests.
“Be careful as to what pictures you post and what information you attach with that photo. Pictures of your kids in their school uniform, and location shouldn’t be used. Pictures can easily be taken from your social media and the faces or parts of your child’s body can be used on other existing photos of children being forced into sexual or abusive acts. If your child’s features match that of their clients, they will find a way to track that child down,”said Coleman-Malinga.