The group, which allegedly terrorised banks, cash-in-transit companies and casinos around the country, were arrested by members of the Cato Manor Serious and Violent Crimes Unit during 2010 – weeks after they allegedly robbed Sibiya Casino north of Durban.
The modus operandi used during that robbery mirrors that of a gang that stormed the Carnival City Casino on Monday.
When the group was initially arrested it was decided they would first stand trial in Durban for the Sibiya Casino robbery where a patron was shot dead, as this had been the most recent case against them.
After the Durban trial they were to be taken to Gauteng to stand trial.
Spokesman for the Police Ministry, Zweli Mnisi, did not respond to e-mails and telephone calls at the time of going to press.
During a bail application after their arrest, prosecutor Yuri Gangai told the court that the six men had featured in 35 to 40 armed robbery dockets. Thulani Hlatswayo, Malvern Ndlovu, Lumkani Dube, Bongani Lukhele, Philani Gumpu and Innocent Shabalala are also wanted for at least three armed cash heists in which police officers were shot.
According to an affidavit by Captain Neville Eva of the Cato Manor unit, which was used to oppose bail, Ndlovu and Dube are allegedly linked to nine and 12 robberies respectively in Gauteng. Lukhele and Gumpu are linked to three robberies in Johannesburg.
Eva said the Home Affairs Department had told him that the men were all Zimbabweans and that only Hlatswayo and Shabalala were in the country legally. Gumpu boasted that he had been a former Zimbabwean special forces soldier and had served as a bodyguard to President Robert Mugabe.
In opposing bail, according to court records, Ndlovu has six arrests warrants issued against him relating to the armed robbery of banks.
Court records seen by The Citizen show that the prosecutor in the case, Yuri Gangai, told the court that if the men were granted bail they would automatically be deported as they were illegally in South Africa. But instead of being deported when released from prison, the men walked free.
Durban’s Daily News yesterday reported that a suspended member of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit had tipped off police in Gauteng that the Carnival City robbery was being planned from the prison where the men were being held. The newspaper quoted the un- named suspended officer as saying that he was certain the Carnival City robbery was carried out by the group released from Durban.
Several sources said that the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric) had been tipped off that the group might be acquitted and might plan more
These sources all told The Citizen that no specific information on where the men planned to strike had been provided. The sources all indicated that the SA Police Service had been warned that, should the men be acquitted, they should not be released as they were wanted for scores of cash heists.
Sabric spokesman Bongani Diako could not be reached at the time of going to press.