JOHANNESBURG (AP) — It was a lethal gadget right out of a James Bond movie: Remote-controlled gun barrels rigged behind the rear license plate of a car that spray bullets at an unsuspecting target.
But South African police say it was a possible attempt to kill Radovan Krejcir, a Czech fugitive who was sentenced in his country last year to 11 years in jail for tax fraud and has been linked to underworld figures in Johannesburg.
Krejcir emerged unscathed from Wednesday’s episode, which peppered his bullet-proof Mercedes Benz with impact marks and shocked veteran observers of South Africa’s organized crime who thought they had seen it all. The empty, parked vehicle where the weapon was hidden burst into flames after the shooting, possibly destroying evidence.
“All my life is like James Bond stuff,” Krejcir said with a chuckle in an interview with Eyewitness News, a South African media outlet. “That’s how I live my life.”
And who might want to kill him? At first, Krejcir reportedly said he didn’t know. Then he said that if he had any theories, he wasn’t saying.
The episode was the one of the most outlandish chapters in the long saga of the underworld in Johannesburg, where turf battles over drugs, fraud schemes and other spoils sometimes turn deadly. Over the years, South Africans have been riveted by this fringe universe of hit men, corrupt cops, sleaze merchants and grisly murders.
No one, however, tried to take out another guy with something that Q, the hi-tech whiz in the British secret service of the Bond movies, would devise in his laboratory. The getup on the car outside Krejcir’s gold and diamonds pawn shop evoked “Goldfinger,” the Bond movie in which 007 drives an Aston Martin with gun barrels behind the front indicators.
Photographs of the stolen red VW Polo in Johannesburg show a dozen gun barrels, some of them melted or contorted by the fire that followed the shooting. It was an accurate effort. About 10 bullets hit the driver’s window, but Krejcir was out of the vehicle at that point, talking on his phone.
Security consultant Rory Steyn said on Radio 702 that there could be “any number of motives” for the incident, whether it was an attack on Krejcir or even something that he set up himself to appear like an assassination attempt.
Krejcir told local media that he initially thought he was hearing fireworks. He speculated that someone knew he always parked in the same place, positioned the gun-fitted VW for the hit and then triggered it from a distance.
Sean Newman, co-author of a book about a murdered strip club owner, said he was in the area at the time and had a close look at the rigged vehicle. He suggested the skills and planning required for such a job may have come from abroad.
“It was definitely very sophisticated,” he said. “My first impression was that this was not local.”
Newman’s book, “Lolly Jackson: When Fantasy Becomes Reality,” traces the turbulent career of Jackson, owner of a chain of South African strip clubs called Teazers who was shot dead in a Johannesburg house near the international airport in 2010.
Cyprus-born George Louca was named as a suspect in the killing, and the Supreme Court in Cyprus last week turned down Louca’s effort to avoid extradition from his home country to South Africa. No date has been set for his extradition.
Krejcir, an associate of Jackson and Louca, eluded a police raid on his Czech villa in 2005 and turned up in South Africa in 2007, where he has fought extradition attempts. While in South Africa, Krejcir was charged with robbery and insurance fraud in unrelated cases, but the charges were dropped.
In the book co-authored by Newman, Krejcir say he is a scapegoat for killings that police have been unable to solve. According to the book, he said he was one of the first people to see Jackson’s body, and described the scene in detail, even suggesting how the killing may have happened.
“He’s always come across as very respectful and charming in my presence. He’s never threatened me,” Newman said of Krejcir. “I’ve never seen him lose his temper. I’m sure others have.”