Three men, Shadrack Matambo (43), Leonard Khumalo (53) and Thabani Sibanda (39), were given a heavy sentence at the Kroonstad Magistrate’s Court on Thursday for the theft of protected plants – worth more than R2 million.
According to Lt. Col. Zweli Mohobeleli, spokesman for the Hawks, said the accused were caught in September last year by a traffic officer at a petrol station along the N1 near Kroonstad.
“She confronted them about the transport of the suspicious cargo and escorted them to the police station. However, they managed to escape moments later.
“The suspects left the vehicle with 50 breadfruit trees in it. Apparently they did not have a permit to own or transport the plants,” says Mohobeleli.
Information obtained during the course of the investigation led members of Welkom’s Serious Organized Crime Investigation Unit (SOCI) and Welkom’s Tactical Response Team (TRT) to Gauteng, where the first suspect was successfully located and arrested .
A follow-up detection operation was carried out in February this year by Welkom SOCI and Sasolburg TRT after receiving information about the other two suspects. They were also arrested soon after.
The Zimbabwean citizen, Matambo, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for theft and another three months for being in South Africa illegally. Khumalo was sentenced to 12 years in prison for theft, while Sibanda will serve eight years in prison. The accused were also declared incompetent to own a firearm.