Nearly 200 firearms go missing in Charlo
Several of the guns have ended up in the hands of gangsters, cops say
Almost 170 guns that went missing from a Charlo gun shop late in 2018 are believed to be on the streets of Port Elizabeth – and police are now investigating whether they can be linked to the recent spate of assassinations in the city.
Despite the alleged theft of the guns, Charlo gun store owner Anthony Lombard, 79, failed to report it to the police.
Several of the weapons have already been recovered from known gangsters.
It is not yet clear how many of the hit murders are business related, but it is believed most stem from SMME infighting.
Some of the victims were contractors who formed part of a group that benefited from a R21m tender to clean stormwater drains in Uitenhage, Despatch and Port Elizabeth.
The municipality awarded the contracts in December and since then claims have been flying that some people were not paid and others allegedly misappropriated the money.
Provincial police spokesperson Sibongile Soci said: “All leads that can assist in cracking the investigation into the murders in Port Elizabeth are being followed.”
Police are also investigating if any of the guns Lombard said had been stolen while he was in hospital were used in the recent murders.
Lombard’s gun shop, East Cape Gun Traders, which he ran from his Charlo home, has been shut down and a further 359 guns confiscated.
Details of the firearms probe emerged following a three-week investigation.
The timing of the alleged theft – sometime between June and December – had prompted police to investigate if it was behind the sudden spike in gang-related murders and the recent hit-style killings.
Since January, 11 hit-style murders have been reported in the Bay, and between October and December 2018 more than 30 gang murders and 60 attempted murders occurred.
Because some of Lombard’s arms have already been linked to Bay shootings, the provincial organised crime investigation unit, known as the gang unit, has taken over the probe, roping in firearm and ballistics specialists.
According to police, Lombard has not been arrested and the matter is with the National Prosecuting Authority for it to advise on how to proceed.
The disappearance of the guns was discovered after a shootout between alleged gangsters and police in late January, when 18 firearms were seized.
During the probe, it emerged that 11 of them were registered to East Cape Gun Traders, which had not reported any stolen.
Only about 20 of the 169 missing firearms have been recovered – leaving nearly 150 unaccounted for.
Mount Road Cluster commander Major-General Thembisile Patekile confirmed that some had been found in the hands of known gangsters.
“Follow-up investigations led us to the gun shop, which has [since] been shut down and a full inventory compiled,” Patekile said.
“We have discovered that several firearms, more than a hundred, were missing and our ballistics unit is still comparing the hundreds of confiscated weapons with our central firearms database as well as with the dealer’s records.
“There was no burglary or robbery at the premises.
“According to our preliminary investigation, he [Lombard] was booked into hospital late last year and claims this is when the firearms must have been stolen.
“This is being investigated as he was the sole person with keys to the safe.”
In addition to the gun shop’s stock, several privately owned firearms had been booked in at East Cape Gun Traders for safekeeping by the owners.
“We are contacting each owner to establish if their firearm has also been taken.
“Many are unaware that the guns that were there are even missing,” Patekile said.
“It is an investigation that will take several months.”
Lombard said: “We had a break-in in the middle of December and that’s when they stole the pistols.
“After that, police came and took stock of everything.
“They said it was too risky to keep the rest of the firearms here, so they took the rest.
“I won’t get them back because they [police] said I will not be allowed to trade from here anymore.”
The guns would be sold to a company in Johannesburg.
“I don’t want to elaborate because everything is under investigation.”
Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said: “[Dealers must] make sure their records are properly maintained and in compliance with the Firearms Control Act.
“Failure to report missing firearms results in gross negligence and is criminal.
“These guns eventually end up in the hands of gangsters and criminals who terrorise our communities.”
Additional reporting by Angela Daniels and Siyabonga Sesant.