‘Gun smuggling’ restaurateur sells shares

Irshaad Laher leaves the Bellville Magistrate's Court.

Irshaad Laher, the Rondebosch restaurateur who was arrested on gun smuggling charges a fortnight ago, has relinquished his shares in a number of Spur and Nando’s outlets he co-owned in the city.

This follows a backlash from the public who threatened to boycott the restaurants as a result of his arrest.

Last week Mr Laher was quoted by Voice of the Cape as saying that he had distanced himself from these businesses “because so many people’s lives have been hurt because of this”.

The two Spur branches are in Observatory and Ottery, while the Nando’s outlets are located in Athlone and Gardens.

The boycott call, driven by the group #GangsterismMustFall, was subsequently withdrawn late last week.

Group spokesperson Roscoe Jacobs said once Mr Laher had given up his shares, it was no longer necessary to call for a ban on these businesses.

“However, we also wanted to send a message to businesses that they need to be more vigilant. We need to establish if the business is being run legitimately, or whether in cases such as these it is being used as a front,” Mr Jacobs said.

“We would also like businesses like Spur and Nando’s to show they are serious about combating crime and gangsterism by investing in organisations that are campaigning against them.”

Mr Laher has been described as a “good franchisee” by the Spur Group.

Mr Laher, 41, appeared in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court on Monday June 27, where he was granted bail of R100 000.

He is also charged with corruption, theft of firearms and ammunition, possession of prohibited firearms, selling and money laundering.

In terms of his bail conditions, Mr Laher has to surrender his passport to the investigating officer, and report to the police or court when he wants to leave the province. The case was postponed until July 22.

Mr Laher, a married father of two, is alleged to be linked to former Vereeniging police colonel Christiaan Prinsloo, who was imprisoned for an effective 18 years last week for selling firearms to gangsters.

The accused had been a police reservist in Vereeniging, Gauteng, before moving to Cape Town, and it is alleged the two men had operated their gun smuggling operation since 2007.

Prinsloo indicated in his plea agreement that he had provided guns to a Cape Town man, who acted as a “middle man” between himself and gangsters. These weapons were intended to be destroyed, but the two men were alleged to have netted an estimated R2 million from the racket. More than 2 000 weapons are said to have been provided by Prinsloo to Mr Laher.

Police spokesperson Constable Noloyiso Rwexana confirmed the charges.

Spur Group chief operating officer, Mark Farrelly told the Athlone News that the company’s concern when it ascertained its franchisee for the Spurs in Observatory and Ottery had been arrested could be understood.

“Not least because of the nature of the charges and our surprise, as Irshaad Laher is a good franchisee and obviously because of the damage to our group’s reputation,” Mr Farrelly said.

Asked last week whether the Spur Group would consider revoking its agreement with the accused, he said that would naturally depend on the judgment.

“Equally, we have to factor into our deliberations that Irshaad Laher is not the sole partner in these two Spurs.

“In a nutshell, we will not consider cancelling his agreement while this matter is sub judice.”

Nando’s chief marketing officer, Doug Place, said last week the franchise was aware of the allegations against Mr Laher.

“It goes without saying that Nando’s categorically condemns violence and criminal behaviour and will not tolerate this in any of its employees and associates,” he said.

In an affadavit dated June 23, the day of Mr Laher’s arrest, he revealed that he had been raised by his mother after his father passed away when he was 10 years old.

After matriculating in Benoni, he worked as a journeyman at a jewellery business before turning his attention to motor vehicle sales in Vereeniging.

Mr Laher relocated to Cape Town in 2001, where he worked as an operational business manager for a cabling company. After four years, he bought his own business, Tula Exhausts, in the Cape Town CBD, which he later sold.

“It was through hard work and dedication that I have become a successful businessman and I now part-own four very successful businesses and these businesses employ countless people,” he said.

Together with his wife, Mr Laher runs Kusasa Commodities, a close corporation which owns the Twin Peak Spur.

According to the affadavit, he runs this business but does not draw a salary. “I do, however, share the annual profits that are declared according to my ownership in Kusasa.”

He also has a 50% share in Rosta Traders CC, with the remaining 50% owned by trusts. Rosta owns the Eagle Eye Spur in Observatory, which he himself runs.

“I earned a salary of approximately R50 000 a month.”

Further, the affadavit reveals that Mr Laher and his wife together with business partners own the Aspidus closed corporation, which owns the Nando’s outlet in Athlone where he is the business manager.

This position earns Mr Laher R45 000 a month.

Mr Laher also owns a 50% share of five properties in Lansdowne which are leased out to tenants.

He recently bought a R3 million property in Gardens in his own name.

In August 2010, Mr Laher was shot during an armed robbery at home.

According to the affadavit, the bullet to his lower right leg left him wheelchair-bound for eight months.

Mr Laher said he was a member of the SA Hunters Association, and had obtained his provincial colours in competitive shoots.

“As a result, I hold competency certificates in a variety of firearm calibres, and various gun licences.”

He added that due to his business interests he often had to draw large amounts of cash to operate his businesses and required his firearm for self-defence purposes.

In respect of the circumstances of his arrest and allegations against him, Mr Laher said he intended pleading not guilty to the charges.

“I submit that I am wholly innocent of any criminal accusations, although at this stage I am unaware of the factual matrix that the state bases this charge upon. It appears a convicted self-confessed criminal has pointed a finger at me.”

Mr Laher said he had been aware of the allegations for more than a year but remained in the country.

“I have (also) left on holiday and elected to return.”