Magistrate weighs terror gang evidence

HARARE - A Harare regional magistrate yesterday weighed arguments in a contentious case in which a suspected gang of armed robbers reigned terror at mines and business premises before they were busted in August 2015, leading to the recovery of an assortment of artillery, but did not indicate when he might rule.

Regional magistrate Hosea Mujaya is expected to issue a written decision probably today on the 14-member gang that faces eight counts ranging from contravening the Firearms and Explosives Act, plain robbery and armed robbery, and attempted murder — which he temporarily halted yesterday.

His decision will come after hearing all evidence in the trial of Simbarashe Tavengwa, 37, NgonidzasheMutiba, 36, Tinashe Chikara, 49, Titus Chatukuta, 35, Ray Shangari, 35, Tinashe Matinyenya, 28, Wilson Kaneta, 33, Khumbulani Ncube, 35, Mgcini Ramachela, 33, Charles Nyandoro, 53, Rodwell Mutunya, 34, Takafa Vumbunu, 33, Doubty Mharadze, 39, and Happymore Muchenje, 23.

In what could probably rank among the police’s recent success stories. A crack team pounced on the gang at their hide out at a 22-roomed farmhouse in Darwendale — a small town located about 62 kilometres west of the capital city — leading to the arrest of the suspects.

Police recovered an AK 47 assault rifle, three Noringo pistols with live rounds of ammunition, one Lama pistol, another Noringo pistol without bullets, a vector pistol with five rounds, axes, iron bars and spikes, which they reportedly used against their victims.

All the recovered guns had their serial numbers erased, making it difficult for investigators to trace their origins.

As Mujaya gave an analysis of the trial yesterday, he revealed how Mharadze and Muchenje had leaked information about their employers and landlords, making them targets of the armed robberies.

“The 13th accused person (Mharadze) had given information to the robbers about his landlord Kudakwashe Marufu who had just collected rentals amounting $20 000 before they pounced on him. The last accused person Muchenje was a security guard at Ayrshire Mine in Banket and provided information about when gold would be transported to Fidelity Refiners,” Mujaya said.

He said after police had been alerted of the gang’s location, they sought assistance from Special Tactics Unit and Canine section because they had been informed of the presence of heavy artillery at the hideout location.

However, Mujaya noted that the accused persons all denied knowledge of the firearms saying they were surprised to see the guns piled in one of the farm house’s kitchen cabinets during their arrest.

It was alleged that the gang was armed with six pistols, an AK-47 assault rifle, axes, iron bars and two sets of spikes as they prepared to attack Safeguard Security company cash-in-transit vehicles.

When the gang was about two kilometres from the mine, it is alleged they saw the vehicles approaching and threw spikes on the road in a bid to deflate the tyres and continue to attack.

The victims noticed the spikes and realised they were in danger and tried to reverse the vehicles, but the gang quickly moved in and deflated the vehicle tyres.

The State alleges the gang simultaneously emerged from the right side of the bush, wearing matching blue work-suits and face masks and at the same time, opening fire at the fleeing security vehicles.

As the area was turned into a battlefield, the gang allegedly used axes, hammers and crowbars to smash the front screen and side windows of the armoured vehicle carrying gold, but the crew did not surrender.

The court heard that the security crew reversed safely from the firing zone but the driver of the escort Toyota Hilux car lost control of the vehicle and rammed against a tree.

Tavengwa and his gang kept randomly firing at the stationary vehicle, while the security crew returned fire, resulting in one of the gang members getting shot.

After some time, it is alleged, the suspected robbers realised they had lost and drove away in their getaway truck, which they later abandoned about 20 kilometres from the scene, leaving trails of blood on the passenger door.

Some of the gang members were captured by surveillance cameras fitted on to the two armoured vehicles, leading to their positive identification by police.

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