A man serving a life sentence for murder and rape who escaped from a high-security prison with the help of guards by faking his own death in flames was brought back to South Africa early Thursday after fleeing with his girlfriend.

The couple was arrested in Tanzania last weekend.

State broadcaster SABC showed video of Thabo Bester being driven from Johannesburg’s Lanseria airport in a police vehicle with bars on the windows. Heavily armed police put his girlfriend, the celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana, in a separate white van at the airport.

Magudumana was expected to be charged with murder as part of the elaborate escape plot, which involved bringing a dead body to the prison where Bester was incarcerated to help him stage his own death in a fire and escape.

A prison guard and Magudumana’s father have already been charged with murder in connection with the body of a man found burned beyond recognition in Bester’s cell. The unidentified man died of blunt force trauma to the head before the fire, police said.

Police and officials from the South African Ministry of Justice confirmed that Bester and Magudumana had returned to the country and said more arrests were expected.

Zolile Sekeleni and Senohe Matsoare appeared in court earlier this week on charges of aiding Thabo Bester’s escape.Gallo Images via Getty Images

Bester was convicted of one count of murder and two counts of rape and sentenced in 2012. He escaped from Mangaung Correctional Center in the Free State province nearly a year ago, when he was formally pronounced dead by suicide after a fire broke out in his cell.

The details have only been made public and have been pieced together in the last three weeks. Critics allege that officials intentionally covered up the story.

Lawmakers held an hour-long parliamentary hearing on Wednesday on security lapses that played a role in the leak. They questioned senior officials at the prison and at British private security firm G4S, which has a long-term contract to operate it.

Three prison employees, the night supervisor and two guards working in the security camera control room were fired on suspicion that they helped Bester escape amid the confusion of the fire in his cell before dawn on May 3, 2022.

Although one was charged with murder, lawmaker Glynnis Breytenbach said she suspected more guards and officials were bribed to bring the body to the cell and help Bester escape.

«How many palms were oiled?» Breytenbach asked during the hearing. «Are you honestly saying that this escape from Hollywood proportion was done with the help of only three people?»

Prison and G4S officials admitted under questioning that a television cabinet large enough to possibly hide a dead body was brought into the prison in an unauthorized vehicle hours before Bester escaped around 4 a.m. next morning. Neither the cabinet nor the vehicle was searched.

They also said top prison officials gave Bester permission to be transferred to a single-occupant cell three days before his escape. The cell was located next to a fire escape, which is believed to have been used by him to escape.

Legislator Xola Nqola said that «it was not by chance» that Bester was transferred to that cell.

An internal investigation by G4S found that the prison’s security camera recording system had a «power outage» at the time of the breakout.

Bester was a renowned criminal known as the «Facebook Rapist» for using the social networking site to lure his victims to meetings. He was found guilty of murder for stabbing to death his girlfriend, a model, in 2011 and raping two other female models.

For months after Bester’s escape, he and Magudumana, whom police identified as his «accomplice,» lived in a mansion in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb, driving luxury cars while running a company that allegedly defrauded companies out of hundreds. thousands of dollars, according to media reports.

Authorities only publicly announced last month that Bester did not die in his cell and had escaped after the South African news organization GroundUp reported that the charred body found in the cell was not Bester’s, based on autopsy findings.

The news and increased public interest in the case appear to have prompted Bester and Magudumana to flee the country. It also drew strong criticism of authorities for failing to warn the public that a dangerous criminal was on the loose.

The parliamentary hearing focused on the initial jail failures and continued on Thursday. Further hearings were scheduled on what the South African police, Department of Corrections and Ministry of Justice knew about Bester’s escape and when they found out.