Some of South Africa’s most wanted criminals have slipped through the borders and are being sought internationally.
One of them was George Louka, aka George Smith, who was linked to the murder of Teazers boss Lolly Jackson. He is now dead.
Two others on the list of the 10 most-wanted suspects – Jacque Anton Robbertse, wanted for rape and indecent assault, and Johannes Gerhardus Janse van Vuuren, sought in connection with a murder – are now behind bars, facing extradition.
But, despite Louka’s death and the apprehension of Robbertse and Van Vuuren, the three men are still on Interpol’s most-wanted list.
And this, say experts, is among the reasons for the international policing organisation’s fugitives list, meant to be a crime-busting tool, being largely ineffective.
Other reasons include the lack of photographs of fugitives – and the sheer incompetence of some law enforcement personnel, many of whom have never heard of an Interpol red notice.
Three suspects on the Interpol list have no photographs on the organisation’s website, and others, such as Chadleigh Khan, wanted for murder – and who skipped the country 10 years ago – have only recently been included on Interpol’s red notice listing.
Khan allegedly murder ed his British girlfriend, Lauren Sleep, and attempted to kill her friend, Lisel Skoonwinkel.
The original investigating officer, The Times has been told, knew that Khan had family in Swaziland but failed to flag him on Interpol’s red notice system.
A red notice is used to alert police internationally to the suspected involvement of individuals in a crime and allows the suspect to be detained for an extradition hearing and deportation to the country in which the offence was allegedly committed.
Interpol’s effectiveness is evident from its International Fugitive Round-Up and Arrest operation, which has, since 2012, led to the arrest of almost 900 international fugitives and the location of 260.
But incompetent, overworked and unskilled detectives are said to be allowing South African criminals to flee without trace.
Criminals are exploiting glaring skills gaps in the police’s detective units that make it possible for them to use airports and cross borders at which customs officials and border guards have no way of knowing they are wanted fugitives.
On Tuesday last week, Robbertse, 53, the rape and indecent assault suspect, was arrested in Belgium – 10 years after he fled South Africa – through pure luck. Police, suspicious of his erratic behaviour in a marketplace, fingerprinted him.
He was arrested when officers discovered that he was on the run after his conviction in a Rustenberg court for rape.
Seasoned detectives, criminologists and a former South African Interpol officer, Jacque Meyer, who was involved in Louka’s extradition, say the man’s arrest is indicative of the dire situation in the detective services in this country.
Meyer said many South African detectives, especially at police-station level, are unaware of Interpol’s existence.
“I discovered Interpol’s existence by accident years ago. We were flabbergasted to discover last year that such lack of knowledge of Interpol continues to exist in the police today.”
Meyer said that al though the South African police’s Interpol office has one of the world’s highest rates of arrest of foreign criminals hiding in this country (95%), many South African criminals skip the country with relative ease.
“The officers in this country’s Interpol office are well equipped. They are not, like other detectives, overburdened by having to handle hundreds of dockets.”
“We have some excellent detectives,” said Johan Burger, policing researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. “But we have lost huge amounts of expertise, with those left being swamped by case loads.
“Compounding the situation are questionable appointments of some detectives, who are completely unsuitable for their job.”
“Recommendations by a parliamentary [committee] in 2012 on turning the detective services around are still on the police minister’s table.
“The recommendations are excellent but must be implemented … The only ones benefiting from the present situation are the criminals,” he said.
A South African Interpol detective said fleeing South African suspects and criminals had it easy.
“They don’t need new identities to flee.
“A number of my colleagues don’t know about Interpol so they don’t bother to flag them. Once the suspects are gone, it’s nearly impossible to catch them unless you have a lucky break, like in Belgium.”
Police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said: “Specialised and general training is a priority within the SAPS. If needs be, members are taken overseas or elsewhere on the continent, to learn new trends, which they are expected to impart to their colleagues.
“To claim there has never been training, or little of it, is not true.”