Raids shatter drugs web
Six hours, 297 police officers, two provinces and 16 arrests - a mighty blow has been dealt to an international drug smuggling syndicate using South Africa to channel cocaine.
And, aside from the haul of drugs, cash, cars, cellphones and pocket diamond scales, the pre-dawn raids netted an unexpected catch: a rogue police sergeant who allegedly used a state vehicle to hide narcotics worth half-a-million rands.
Police revealed the spoils of Operation Dintwa (war) - which began at 3am on Friday and lasted six hours - at a press conference yesterday morning.
Later in the day, some of those arrested, including the suspected kingpin of the syndicate, began making appearances at court and were due to continue their battle for bail this morning.
The recently formed Hawks unit made the announcement, claiming that investigations into the syndicate began in 2007 in the wake of a flood of drugs in Klerksdorp, North West. The community grew impatient after the drugs began finding their way into the hands of local children.
As the probe gained momentum, it emerged that the syndicate was using South Africa as a stop-over to move cocaine from South America to Europe and North America, with the overflow feeding the local market. The consignment of drugs had dagga added locally.
In the past two years, police made at least 11 arrests at OR Tambo International Airport - through which the syndicate slipped shipments - and abroad.
During these arrests, police said, R22 million worth of cocaine and dagga was kept off the streets. In most cases, drug mules were arrested trying to smuggle the cocaine through airports.
The operation culminated in the early hours of Friday when groups of officers - ranging in size but no fewer than 10 - fanned out across Joburg, Sandton, Midrand, Soweto, Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom. The groups struck at 23 addresses, including the Buccleuch, Sandton, home of the syndicate's suspected kingpin.
Police have given his name as Pedro Odoemenem, a 34-year-old living in a poorly kept mansion in Joburg.
It's understood Odoemenem was overwhelmed by the number of officers and put up little resistance. Police have gathered intelligence on their suspect and have said it would emerge in court.
They believe the syndicate is controlled by Nigerians.
The officer arrested, whose name was given as Sergeant Riaan Newton, is stationed at Hillbrow and is accused of stashing R540 000 of cocaine in a state vehicle parked at the station.
He, and a policewoman who is still on the run, are accused of assisting the syndicate.
The officers involved in the raid were from the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks), Organised Crime Unit, National Intervention Unit, Dog Unit, Special Task Force and Crime Intelligence Unit, along with members of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, South African Revenue Service and National Prosecuting Authority.
The raids, made with the help of Interpol, saw police recovering, among other things, R4 million worth of narcotics, 220 rounds of ammunition, three cars, 44 cellphones and R49 000 in cash.
The countries targeted by the syndicate include South Africa, Angola, Senegal, Nigeria and the US, as well as Europe.
The syndicate reportedly uses specially modified submarines on some of its routes (so far this has not been the case in South Africa) and specialises in smuggling cocaine.
According to a police source, the syndicate uses casinos to launder money.
"The drugs that are being recovered in South Africa and other African countries are just the overflow of what is going to Europe and the US," the source said, adding that the cartel was earning billions of dollars annually from its global operations.
"As well as operating in North West and Gauteng, the syndicate also has legs across the rest of South Africa," Hawks head Anwa Dramat said.
By Alex Eliseev and Graeme Hosken
December 01 2009 at 09:08AM
1 million SA Rands = $136,963.32 US dollars
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