A taste for guns

Irshaad Laher leaves the Bellville Magistrate's Court on Monday.

The Rondebosch restaurateur who was arrested on gun smuggling charges last week has been described as a “good franchisee” by the Spur Group.

Irshaad Laher, 41, who co-owns the Eagle Eye Spur in Observatory and Twin Peak Spur in Ottery, and also has a stake in Nando’s branches in Athlone and Gardens, 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 in prison 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 had 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 are 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 Tatler 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 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 the franchise was aware of the allegations against Mr Laher.

“Mr Laher is part shareholder in our Nando’s Athlone and Garden’s restaurants. We are holding urgent meetings with the other shareholders in order to plan a way forward this week. 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 close 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 five properties in Lansdowne which are leased out to tenants, and 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.”