By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — In a newspaper cartoon, a Czech fugitive with alleged links to Johannesburg's deadly underworld scolds the Grim Reaper for wanting a vacation.
"Time off — again?! You haven't worked in ten days!" says Radovan Krejcir, a fugitive who was sentenced to jail in his country and faces charges of assault and kidnapping in South Africa. Police previously said Krejcir was suspected of attempted murder.
The Saturday Star image captures South Africa's fascination with a man who, after surviving an apparent attempt to kill him in July, said his life was like something out of James Bond. In that episode, remote-controlled gun barrels rigged behind the license plate of a car sprayed bullets at Krejcir's armored Mercedes-Benz, a scene that recalled "Goldfinger," the Bond movie in which 007 drives an Aston Martin with gun barrels behind the front indicators.
Since 2010, up to a dozen people believed to have underworld links have been killed. Two of them died in an explosion earlier this month.
The Czech, who denies involvement, has acknowledged that some of them were his associates.
"The bodies have been piling up for years!" exclaimed talk show host John Robbie on Radio 702. He and many other South Africans wonder how Krejcir can coolly claim to be bewildered about the mayhem around him.
In South Africa, organized crime and gangland-style hits are seen as a murky offshoot to the high national rates of rape, armed robbery and other violence. Many South Africans worry about being targeted in the street or in their homes, but turf battles over drugs, fraud schemes and the like is generally a contained, shadowy world.
Underworld figures usually "don't attack each other" in shopping centers or other areas where innocent citizens could be hurt, said Colin McKenzie, a community leader in Johannesburg's Bedfordview district, where Krejcir lives. But a Nov. 12 blast at a Bedfordview gold and diamond exchange shop owned by Krejcir killed two of his alleged associates and increased pressure on police to act. Late Friday, Krejcir was arrested.
He appeared briefly in a court on Monday, and South African media said a bail hearing will occur next week. Another court ordered that he be transported to a hospital after his lawyers said he could suffer kidney failure if he doesn't get treatment. They have also accused police of abusing Krejcir; police deny the allegation.
Police are also worried that some of their own may have been tainted by mob money and are investigating allegations that a top police officer received a $40,000 loan from a company linked to Krejcir.
Wanted on suspicion of fraud and planning a murder, Krejcir eluded a police raid on his Czech villa in 2005 in a sensational escape that forced the resignation of the country's top police officer. He has fought extradition attempts since arriving in South Africa under a false name in 2007. He was charged with robbery and insurance fraud in unrelated cases in South Africa, but the charges were dropped. Last year, a Czech court sentenced him to 11 years in prison and he faces a separate trial there involving an alleged $150 million swindle.
His $20 million villa, which includes an aquarium where Krejcir kept a shark, is up for auction.
Krejcir and an associate were arrested for an alleged attack on a South African man in the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg in June, according to Riah Phiyega, South Africa's police commissioner. She didn't name the associate or the man who was attacked.
McKenzie, the Bedfordview resident, speculated that underworld figures are drawn there in part because of its easy access to highways. He said the crime rate in his neighborhood was actually lower than in some other city districts, but acknowledged that the presence of Krejcir and his associates was hurting its reputation and now posed more of a general threat.
"There's a concern that things will go awry and there will be innocent people involved," he said.
Associated Press writer Karel Janicek contributed to this report from Prague.
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