Two weeks ago today, two men were arrested in Australia after police found cocaine worth R1.4bn hidden in a secondhand excavator imported from SA.
The next day, former soccer star Marc Batchelor was shot dead in the driveway of his Johannesburg home.
Now detectives investigating the 49-year-old’s murder are probing possible links between the two incidents, and a Cape Town underworld source told the Sunday Times: “Someone snitched. How else are you going to find something like that in a tractor?”
Police are also looking into an alleged row with an Israeli businessman over a R3.5m debt Batchelor collected but allegedly never paid over. The soccer star’s funeral on Thursday featured several anecdotes over his penchant for punch-ups.
Meanwhile, Batchelor’s dog Dakota, which witnessed his murder and took a bullet to the abdomen, is on the road to recovery. But vets say she is likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder long after her wound has healed.
● Murdered soccer star turned debt collector Marc Batchelor was allegedly in financial trouble, with those linked to the underworld harassing friends and business associates to track him down.
The Sunday Times understands from sources close to the police investigation that detectives investigating his death have been handed a number of these threatening WhatsApp messages. Batchelor was shot dead in the driveway of his Olivedale, Johannesburg, home on July 15.
Last week the Sunday Times reported that detectives from the Gauteng Organised Crime Unit were investigating several possible motives for Batchelor’s murder. Among them was a fallout he allegedly had with an Israeli businessman over a R3.5m debt he collected but never paid over. Another was his alleged involvement in the theft of a one-ton cocaine shipment that came into SA in December last year.
A day before his murder, Australian police arrested two men and recovered 384kg of cocaine, worth R1.4bn, hidden inside an excavator imported to New South Wales from Mzansi.
This followed the April seizure of 70kg of cocaine concealed in a shipment of furniture, also imported from SA. A 45-year-old South African man was arrested in Sydney in connection with the drugs. A Cape Town underworld source, linked to Batchelor, said questions were being asked about connections between Batchelor’s murder and the Australian busts.
“Someone snitched. How else are you going to find something like that in a tractor?”
Batchelor has been described by friends and family as someone with a kind heart who had taken the wrong path in life.
Private investigator and Batchelor’s close friend Gene Kotton dismissed the drug connections. “Marc didn’t drink, take drugs or deal. There is definitely something more sinister behind all this.”
He said Batchelor had “some serious fallouts with Joburg people”. “I’m not sure what the fallouts were about, but he was being harassed and he was pissed off about it. He had so many projects on the go, the majority of which he kept from us.”
Kotton was arrested last weekend for possessing a cellphone police claimed belonged to Batchelor. The phone has allegedly been wiped clean. He was released on Monday before he appeared in court.
Kotton denied he had Batchelor’s phone. “I had the phone of a friend of his. The friend asked me to hold it while he consoled Batchelor’s girlfriend. I would not do anything to jeopardise the investigation. The crime scene had dozens of people who were not law enforcement all over it. It was compromised,” said Kotton.
He said he had been helping Batchelor financially for about two years, “like a lot of his friends did”.
“I saw him the Friday before he died. I bought him lunch and food for his dogs. Every month I helped him, sometimes with money to service his car or pay for petrol. The man was definitely hard up and desperate people do desperate things, but he would not do drugs.”
Kotton said Batchelor was returning from Welkom — where he was looking at a business opportunity involving waste rehabilitation — on the night he was killed.
“He asked me to get involved. I told him I would, but only on legitimate business deals and I would bring the investors.”
Asked about the WhatsApp messages and whether Batchelor was threatened before his death, Gauteng police spokesperson Col Lungelo Dlamini said he could not reveal sources “or any conduct related to the deceased prior to his death”.
He failed to answer questions about whether police had seized cellphones from the crime scene, what data had been deleted from Batchelor’s cellphone or if anyone other than Kotton had been taken in for questioning. He said allegations about the conduct of police at the crime scene might be followed up if there was a complaint.
– Source: Sunday Times