Saturday, February 19, 2011
by Jenny Gross I Associated Press
SOUTH African police found an AK-47 assault rifle and ammunition at the home of a terror suspect accused of threatening the United States and Britain with biological weapons, prosecutors said at a bail hearing Friday.
At the hearing, Brian Roach's lawyers said he would plead guilty to attempted extortion, but not to terror charges. They also said the 64-year-old was no longer seeking bail.
Roach is accused of sending e-mails threatening to spread foot-and-mouth disease in the U.S. and Britain unless the governments paid him US$4 million in gold coins known as Krugerrands.
Prosecutors have said police have not found evidence that Roach had the means to carry out his threats.
Roach, who owns an engineering firm outside Johannesburg and has business interests in Zimbabwe, is accused of saying in e-mails that he wanted the money to compensate white Zimbabwean farmers for land lost, and accusing the U.S. and British governments of not doing enough to help the farmers.
About 4,000 white farmers have been forced from their farms since 2000 in what Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe calls a campaign to put more land in the hands of impoverished blacks.
South African investigators worked with U.S. and British officials on the case, and arrested Roach on February 12 after a seven-month investigation.
Roach has spent the past week in the holding cells of the Bramley police station in Johannesburg. But the terror suspect is a far cry from the gentle grandfather known by his family.
Just a few roads away from the police station, Roach's 28-year-old son, Dyllan, runs his industrial lighting business. "This came as a huge shock," Dyllan said. "We don't know what's going on, and there's talk in the family that he might have been set up."
"He's old and frail and the most gentle person," said Dyllan. "He's not what I perceive a terrorist would be like. He's never done anything like this. He's just not that kind of guy."
He said that his father was a passionate sports pilot, who owned his own plane and won a South African flying championship in his heyday. Roach and his wife have been married for 36 years and live in the exclusive K'Shane Estate on the Hartbeespoort Dam in North West province. They have four children and one grandchild.
K'Shane is also home to Roach's boathouse, where he kept a helicopter.
According to his attorney, Rod Montano, he is "the least threatening person". Although Roach is still registered as a director of Brano Industries, a company that manufactures remote-controlled doors and garage door openers, his co-director Noel Otten said he hasn't been to the company for two years.
"What I've been reading about him is not the person I knew," Otten said. "He was stubborn but not very aggressive. I was as dumbfounded as anyone else… I think he was just trying to get some cash."
But this week Otten told The Daily Maverick that Roach had a history of acting strangely and during his time at the company would sometimes withhold payments to creditors unless he received money from the company.
The Hawks are not treating Roach's threats as a joke and don't view him as the gentle old man he is described as.
"You are talking about somebody who owns a boathouse and a helicopter," said McIntosh Polela, a spokesperson for the Hawks. "He was definitely very clever. It's easy to say now that he is not capable of doing what he said he would, but we took him very seriously. He's threatened two countries with terrorism."
Polela said that Roach's letters and emails to the UK and US governments were monitored for six months. "We had the FBI and counter-terrorism police in the UK that alerted us to him," he said. "We had negotiations with him. He thought the people he was talking to were from the UK and the US but actually there were also people from South Africa involved.
"We became aware of who he was. He wanted the person who he believed was from the UK to rent a warehouse in Hartbeespoort, drop off the Krugerrands [South African gold coin] and leave the keys at a restaurant in the town. He picked up the keys and we started monitoring him."
According to the charge sheet, Roach's reason for his demands was that he wanted to raise money for farmers in Zimbabwe, whose plight was being ignored by the West.
But Dyllan said that his father had little to do with Zimbabwe and was not born there, as many press reports have claimed and the Hawks believe. "He was born in South Africa. What the press has been reporting is way out."
Polela said: "We don't know what to make of this stuff about Zimbabwe. We know he's an ex-Rhodesian. But the story about Zim came up only after he was arrested. All he said was that he was going to release this disease."
Meanwhile, his son said that the family, and especially Roach's wife, were "taking it very badly". "There's just no way. There's no chance," he said.