Friendly neighbour turns out to be 'gun-runner'

A FRIENDLY dog walker, whose face was a common sight in the plush Johannesburg suburb of Norwood, is one of the alleged masterminds behind the supply of paramilitary weapons and explosives to suspected gangs of ATM bombers.

The man, who is believed to be a Russian citizen, has been described as a friendly face in the neighbourhood and someone who always had time to greet people.

"Its unbelievable. Never in a million years did I think this Oom was a gun-smuggler," a neighbour said.

The suspect, his daughter and domestic worker were arrested in a raid in which police thought they would be recovering narcotics.

Instead officers seized an arsenal of police and military issued machine-guns, including AK-47 assault rifles, commercial explosives, as well as more than 300 handguns. Neighbour Moses Mphephu said the man loved his dogs – two Great Danes. "He was forever walking them. Mornings, afternoons and evenings.

"They are beautiful dogs and he was very proud of them," he said.

The arrests come as police intensify their investigation into the suspects and another man, who is on the run.

The suspect on the run is also believed to be of eastern European descent and is thought to have played a significant role in sourcing the weapons, a police source said.

A police officer close to the investigation said they were specifically looking at the role of the domestic worker in the syndicate.

"It appears as though she was acting as the middle-man in this set-up, liaising with the suppliers and gangs of criminals. "The investigation is looking into exactly who was receiving these guns and explosives and whether they were being rented out," the officer said.

He said it appeared as though those arrested were part of a well organised syndicate who had the necessary connections to obtain high- powered weapons and commercial explosives. "The weapons and explosives recovered are not something that you pick up on the shelf of a shop. It requires a lot of know-how."

Police spokesman Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said the suspects would appear in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court today on charges of possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition, contravention of the Explosives Act and possession of dagga.

He confirmed another suspect was still being sought. - Graeme Hosken