OPINION: What to do with Radovan Krejcir?
The narrative around Czech fugitive Radovan Krejcir is truly the stuff of mafia tales. This was most evident over the past month when it emerged that an elaborate, daring plot apparently involving getaway helicopters, clandestine hotel rooms and cross-continent escape routes had been foiled. Then there's the pistol supposedly stashed in the treadmill in prison, the knives, the tazers and the multiple cellphones spirited into a maximum security establishment, ostensibly by corrupted, dirty officials.
Over the eight years he's been in the country, a myth has been built around Krejcir, some of which is slowly being proven true. Other parts will remain unfounded but will add to the mystique and mystery of what appears to be an extensive empire. So the stories go: magistrates bought, senior cops on the payroll, politicians corrupted, a fleet of lawyers on retainer and a bevy of heavies at the ready. The tentacles are many, varied and deep. Some would even argue he is responsible for breaking the police and leveraging the rot in the criminal justice system.
He has always maintained that he is an innocent, family man who wants to make South Africa his home and that he is the victim of a conspiracy. He has often called himself 'Mr Banana Peel', the guy who gets blamed for every slip-up. But the likelihood of a long term future in Bedfordview, surrounded by his family in domestic bliss, will not be possible. His wife and two sons are in the Czech Republic - effectively barred from returning to South Africa by intentional red tape.
He has spent close on two years behind bars awaiting trial and has now been convicted for the first time - of attempted murder and kidnapping. Although he has yet to be sentenced, those convictions will carry with them a lengthy incarceration. He is also still facing trial in three other separate cases and the police will keep on bringing them, case by case, keeping him grinding through the court system for years to come. All of that costs a great deal of time and money and effort, from the high-level cops in the task team, to the prosecutors, the protection detail, the court officials and the day-to-day expense of keeping him in prison. Shutting down the elaborate, repeated plans to break out of prison is also exhausting.
This of course raises the question - is it all worth it? Financially, administratively, legally; at what point does the state say it is no longer in our interests to expend so much time and energy on one individual. There is a sector of society on social media who invariably vocalise the view that we as a country should pack Krejcir onto a plane and send him back to Eastern Europe where the Czechs can deal with him. Some even suggest that local officials should look the other way and conveniently allow him to skip the country. He has been convicted in absentia there and is wanted for several crimes. Krejcir has always insisted that he cannot return to that country and has applied for political asylum in South Africa because he has fallen out of political favour and will be an immediate target for the current regime. Speaking to journalists from the Czech Republic, it seems officials in that country are gagging to convict him publicly.
Of course, it is not that simple. Justice doesn't quite work that way and the law has to be followed. The South African government would not want to leave a pile of case dockets open and high-profile crimes unsolved. They would also not want to miss out on the opportunity of being seen to be capable of cracking down on a massively complex and global crime network. In theory it would be easy to pack him up and ship him off. Just think of all the stress and manpower it would save us. But at what cost?
Would we be able to accept that justice has not run its course and that, in many ways, his rights as a citizen have been undermined? Would we be OK with not seeing anyone convicted for a variety of underworld type hits? Would we be able to accept the perception that we don't hold those responsible for eroding the justice system to account? What if - just what if - he really is innocent and is the victim of a conspiracy?
Then there is also the very good chance that Krejcir actually wants to return to the Czech Republic now. His lawyers there have suggested as much in court. Perhaps the prison system there is more appealing than here. Maybe he sees himself serving a far shorter sentence there than here. Do we want to send him somewhere he wants to go? In reality though, the story of an escape to Argentina without any kind of consequence is probably far more appealing to him than prison time anywhere.
Krejcir and his associated escapades are providing vexed problems for local authorities and will continue to do so for many years to come. Never before has our young democracy had to handle an individual of this complexity and nature. It all leaves the lingering question… What to do with him?
Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener