Twelve soldiers, accused of stealing high-grade automatic weapons have been denied bail.
Nineteen R4-rifles were discovered missing from the Lyttleton military base in Pretoria on Monday.
It’s believed the theft was an inside job, which took place over several weeks.
On Friday, four officers and eight non-commissioned officers appeared in a military court on charges of theft, house-breaking and loss of arms.
The soldiers’ lawyer, Brian Plaatjies, says their constitutional rights were denied while they were in custody.
“There’s no direct evidence presented that any of these accused have either been found in possession of the firearms, any direct evidence that someone saw them with the weapons..”
Judge Coetzer said this was to “curb them from communicating with each other and with witnesses”, and in this way possibly influencing the case.
Contrary to earlier claims by the SA National Defence Union’s Pikkie Greef, the investigating officer told the court that none of the weapons have been recovered. Sources in the military with knowledge of the case, however, said it was likely the rifles could not be used because they did not have closing locks on them.
The 12 men listened to the judge’s decision, delivered after 20:30 on Friday, standing upright at rest in the dimly lit room that served as Court C at the disused old Air Force Gymnasium in Swartkops.
Three of them were dressed in casual, civilian clothes, three in the smart uniform reserved for commissioned officers, while six others wore ordinary military uniform. Among those charged were a captain and two lieutenants.
Afterwards they marched straight out to get into the minibus that transported them to and from the military police station where they are being held. One of the family members who was allowed inside the court broke down and cried when the men had to leave, while another said the trauma they had been through over this Christmas period was the same as having been in a car crash.
All 12 were charged with theft, breaking and entering and negligent loss of firearms in what Brian Plaatjies, lawyer for 10 of the men, described as a “shotgun approach”.
Plaatjies told journalists: “This is because it’s like spraying bullets and hoping to hit one.”
He said some were arrested merely for having been on duty at the time when it was discovered that the weapons were missing.
Plaatjies argued in favour of the men’s release because he said there was no way that the investigation would be done in a week’s time. He also said there was no evidence that any of them would be a flight risk.
Ten of the men were arrested on Tuesday while at work while two more were picked up at their homes by military police on Friday morning.
According to Plaatjies, the investigating officer told the court that further arrests of high-ranking officers were possible.