The Great Escape – SA agents rescue key fraud trial witness from Pakistan
Intelligence agents have “extracted” a South African woman and her children in a daring and high-risk operation from Pakistan where she was held captive by a syndicate that stole R50 million from SARS.
City Press can today exclusively reveal details of the operation to bring back Jacqueline Christine Pienaar and her two children from Lahore in Pakistan where the syndicate held and abused her for three years.
The operation, conducted by SARS investigators and State Security Agency (SSA) agents, was six months in the planning before a team flew to Pakistan in August last year to extract Pienaar and her children from the house where she was held.
The head of the anti-corruption and security unit at SARS, Clifford Collings, this week confirmed the operation and praised the team for bringing Pienaar and her children safely back.
He described the operation as “very sensitive and risky” but said it was immaculately planned and executed to perfection.
SARS investigators told City Press this week how they plotted Pienaar’s escape for six months and how they whisked her and her children out the country.
Pienaar is currently in witness protection but this week exclusively spoke to City Press.
She said she had been “to hell and back”.
The location in Lahore where SA agents rescued Jaqueline Pienaar and her children.
Pienaar was upon her return to South Africa sentenced to a ten year suspended sentence for her role in the syndicate’s scheme to defraud SARS of R50 million.
She told how she got married at age 16 to one of the masterminds behind the notorious Naqvi gang, Assad Naqvi, converted to Islam and adopted the name of Fiza Naqvi.
She was held captive in Pakistan by her husband’s family from the end of 2008 as South Africna investigators closed in on the gang.
The Naqvi syndicate is lethal. Her husband and gang mastermind Asad Naqvi was murdered and set alight soon after she arrived in Pakistan.
She was then told she was not coming back. Syndicate members in Pakistan took her passport and money, she was assaulted, shot at and threatened with death if she dared to try and escape from the double-story house in one of Lahore’s wealthier suburbs.
Early last year, she managed to get a message to SARS investigators that she will co-operate if they can get her and her children back to South Africa.
SARS and the SSA conducted the operation while the Department of International Relations negotiated with their Pakistani counterparts at the “highest level”.
Pienaar and her two children, accompanied by the SARS and SSA rescue team, arrived back in South Africa in September last year.
Details of the operation can only be revealed now after two of the masterminds behind the syndicate – one of them her brother-in-law – were this week convicted and sentenced to an effective eight years’ imprisonment.
Aliraza Naqvi and Mazhar Syed have pleaded not guilty for three years, but changed their plea after hearing that Pienaar is back and is now a state witness.
The Naqvi syndicate has operated in South Africa since the early 2000’s. Between October 2008 and March 2009, they defrauded SARS of R51 million by cloning well-known companies and opening fraudulent bank accounts.
The investigation into the Naqvi syndicate was one of the biggest ever conducted in South African criminal history and included SARS, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Department of Home Affairs and the SSA.
Fourteen syndicate members have so far been arrested of which six have been convicted and sentenced.
SARS had been trying for more than two years to extradite Pienaar from Pakistan. A previous Interpol warrant for her arrest in Pakistan failed because the syndicate was alerted by their friends in the government and police.
Collings said this week: “The syndicate made the mistake of stealing from SARS. And we don’t take that lightly. We not only insure that taxpayers pay their dues but we protect their dues. We went for them and got them.”