OPINION: Inside Casa Krejcir
Sheer curiosity and a benevolent photographer pushed me up what felt like the steepest driveway in Bedfordview. The reward - an hour inspecting the home of arguably the country's most infamous crime boss and the opportunity to allow myself to slip into an alternate universe narrated by Marlon Brando and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Built on 2285m2 of prime Kloof Road estate, the angular modern house is perched on a cliff, with four levels of faux rock piled on top of one another, each floor with a view more spectacular than the next. Radovan Krejcir bought this home in 2008 for R13 million, just one year after arriving in South Africa and being arrested on an Interpol red notice. Legend has it that he stepped onto the property with a briefcase full of cash and announced it would be his. But of course, that could just be wild rumour, embellished to further enhance the myth of the man who has come to run Joburg's underworld.
While he languishes in Zonderwater Prison near Pretoria, journalists have been given free reign to tour what was once his family home. It is going on auction this Saturday, along with his weekend retreat on the banks of the Vaal River, and the curator could apparently do with some free publicity. Prospective bidders have to pay a R100,000 refundable registration fee to partake in the auction and the only hope the press has of raising that kind of cash would be by resorting to rather nefarious mafia-like activities.
It doesn't take long before we are unashamedly snapping selfies in the lift and posing in the lavish loos, speculating fantastically about what went down where, with whom and how violently.
At the top of the zig-zag driveway are three garages which now all stand empty. Just a couple of years ago, they would have housed Krejcir's fleet of high-performance cars, motorbikes, boats and jetskis including a Mercedes Benz CL 63 AMG, a Porsche 990 Triptronic sports car and a Lamborghini Murcielago among a variety of many others. All with personalised DKR number plates of course.
An empty dog kennel stands alongside the main entrance but there is no indication as to the fate of poor Max and the others now that their owners have moved out.
On the ground floor, there is what appears to be an office furnished with black leather couches, a sleek polished wood desk and a highback black leather chair. Most impressive though is the extraordinarily large bathroom. Despite enough space to ballroom dance across the floor, there is just one tiny basin and a toilet, positioned to enjoy the view through the glass wall of the rocky hill. "This bathroom blows my mind," remarks a newspaper hack. It is the first of many innuendos and punny comments for the afternoon.
The en-suite bedroom on the first floor is where one-time bodyguard and fellow Czech Milosh Botiska lived. The former associate claimed to have worked for Krejcir between 2010 and 2012 and has said he left the country because he could see Krejcir was sinking deeper into criminal activity. He is now a potential state witness against his ex-boss and has made explosive revelations in a tell-all book - none of which include details about the pretty impressive digs he enjoyed while in South Africa.
In a poky meeting room across the hall, the auctioneers have kindly laid out plates of Doritos and pretzels for ever-ravenous journos to snack on us we savour the view to the west.
A ride up in the lift to the second floor transports us to the real heart and living area of the home, dominated by a TV room furnished with cream leather couches and a fully kitted out kitchen replete with top-of-the-range Miele products. It was in this area that the Hawks handcuffed Krejcir's teenage son Denis during a high-profile raid in 2011 while his father was on the run from authorities. Sensationally, the police had used an armoured vehicle to gain entry to the property but in a comedy of errors, they rammed down the neighbour's gate causing hundreds of thousands of rands in damage. It was during this raid that the cops allegedly found a hit list in a safe with the scribbled names of those Krejcir wanted dead. Despite my best efforts during the tour, I can't find the safe, but I conclude it's probably hidden away in a secret wall panel only to be opened by a deft touch or something equally James Bondesque.
It's while wandering around the second floor that my imagination truly kicks into high gear.
It isn't difficult to visualise former security operative Cyril Beeka in his leather jacket seated at the bar stool at the counter. I recall a former Krejcir associate recounting that this was in fact where they once met to negotiate a business deal in the days before Beeka was gunned down in an apparent assassination in Cape Town.
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli," I can hear Clemenza telling Rocco.
I can't help but wonder about the ominous looking meat slicer and the orange squeezer left behind and what cruel torture they could impart with the requisite motivation. "Say hello to my little friend…."
Outside the kitchen door, a raw metal walkway elevated over a ten foot drop stretches out to a building site where a granny flat is being built. There are absolutely no railings and assisted by the breathtaking view of the CBD, it is pretty much an accident waiting to happen. "This must be where they walked the plank," I convince myself.
"You could pretty much kill yourself at any point in this house," says one alarmed reporter, astonished by the lack of railings on the balconies and the gaps in the staircases. "It really is very un-child friendly you know." There is also zero garden.
While the fridge is bare, Krejcir would be mortified to see his freezer stocked full of an inferior brand of bottled water. During his heyday holding court at The Harbour restaurant at Bedford Center, he would only drink imported, chilled Voss water bottled in a cylindrical container. How the mighty have fallen.
Continuing along the faux rock walls of the second floor leads us out onto the expansive pool area, an enclosed patio, a jacuzzi and some of the most impressive vistas I have ever seen of Jozi. It was at the table outside here with the views behind him, that Krejcir conducted TV interviews and spent much of his time. "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse," I hear in a hybrid Vito Corleone eastern European drawl. I can almost make out the diminutive silhouette of Teazers boss Lolly Jackson and hear the jangle of his thick gold chain under his open collar.
A photographer shudders and insists his very acute 'sixth sense' is telling him that this is "where somebody got bliksemed
". Somewhere between the Buddha statue and the figurine of a naked female torso. He's sure of it because it is 'bloody eerie'.
Congregating around the jacuzzi and the pool, talk quickly turns to how we should definitely have done this tour at night so someone could have brought the Luminol spray along. Everyone is convinced the plush carpets would be thick with blue glow and the remnants of spilt blood.
It is only on the top floor that it is possibly to appreciate any sense of warmth in the clinical house. Granted, all personal possessions had been removed from the property, mostly when Krejcir's wife Katerina and his sons Denis and Damian left the country. But still, the home feels cold.
In the main suite, a discarded camp cot has been left behind, set against the floor to ceiling velvet curtains and the luxurious gold and cream linen. A painting has been left hanging on the wall above a gas fireplace, depicting a ship run aground during a violent thunderstorm and a bolt of lightning striking down from a heavy grey sky. In the second adjacent bedroom, a black and white framed print of a fingerprint hangs on the wall, almost teasing the viewer into a CSI forensic reference.
Most incongruous of all in the house - and perhaps the room I feel most intrusive in - is Damian's bedroom. A mural of a red racing car with a wave of water in its wake has been painted on the six-year-old's walls. The racing car theme is carried through with checkered flags and a jumbo jet on the roof for extra effect. "What did he think about at night staring up at that departing plane," I wonder. He's now continents away from the father he hasn't seen in nearly two years.
So much has changed for Radovan Krejcir since he first bought this house in Bedfordview seven years ago.
During that time period some would argue he has broken the police service by corrupting rank and file cops and keeping generals on his payroll. He has been arrested and charged with a variety of crimes and has been convicted of attempted murder, kidnapping and drug dealing. He has spent two years in jail but is still to be sentenced. He insists he is the victim of a conspiracy and is not the gangster boss everyone makes him out to be. He also faces at least three other criminal trials with many more still on the horizon. His name has been associated with over a dozen gangland style hits but authorities are yet to charge him for any of these. Instead, they are keeping him pinned down with peripheral cases and a tax fight as they work to build evidence on the really dirty crimes.
It is as a result of his tax problems that this house is going under the hammer on Saturday. Sars secured a preservation order against him and several other respondents last year, placing his assets under curatorship. Sars alleges he underdisclosed his taxable income to the amount of R114 million and that he used the corporate identities of companies, including Groep Twee Beleggings to hide the income accrued to him and his assets with the intention of evading payment of tax.
With a slew of lawsuits and ballooning legal costs, Krejcir is also struggling to gain access to his vast financial resources. He has been forced to fire at least one lawyer and has had to go to court on an urgent basis to try and access money sent to him by his mother in the Czech Republic. In the past she has been known to fly into the country with briefcases stuffed with cash but it seems things are not quite so simple these days.
Krejcir is also facing a separate onslaught in the Czech Republic. A major judgment is expected to be handed down there on Friday this week in a conspiracy to murder case as well as accusations involving fraud and a state-owned oil company. Here in South Africa, the Refugee Appeals Board has been sitting on his application for years and appears to have stalled with little indication of any progress at all.
It seems as though Krejcir has been caught up in a morass of criminal charges, court cases and tax woes. His future in South Africa certainly looks bleak, much like the tanker in the portrait still hanging in his bedroom, run aground in a thunderous storm. The only prospect of light breaking through the clouds is an escape and already authorities have foiled an elaborate plot to flee to South America. They are watching his every move.
The mansion on the mountain in Bedfordview screams out like a beacon of all that Radovan Krejcir managed to amass and destroy in his relatively short stint in this country.
It is a reminder of the Hollywood style attempt on his life when remote controlled barrels popped out of a licence plate and shot at him, of the bomb blast at his Moneypoint headquarters a few hundred metres away, of his associate Sam Issa being gunned down while driving near Bedford Center in broad daylight.
Come this weekend Radovan Krejcir will no longer have any claim to 54a Kloof Road and Bedfordview, now known to many as 'Deadfordview' because of his alleged antics, will cease to be his home. But there is little doubt that Krejcir's mark here has already been made and his shadow will loom large for some time to come still.
Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter here. Images: michaeljames.co.za