‘Drug kingpin’ from PMB

2012-02-25 00:00

A 28-YEAR-OLD Pietermaritzburg woman, who police allege is the local kingpin of a drug syndicate, was arrested at King Shaka International Airport on Thursday after a flight from Brazil via Dubai.

Nomathemba Sweetness Hlela, from Imbali, was nabbed on arrival in Durban, in a joint operation by members of the Durban organised crime unit, the Umhlali dog unit, crime intelligence and others.

She was allegedly found with 540 grams of pure cocaine powder in her luggage, KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said. The cocaine has an estimated street value of R500 000 and was believed to be destined for Johannesburg.

Mdunge said police were conducting an operation “to clean up the airport of hardened criminals who have since embarked on a widespread drug trafficking syndicate”.

They monitored Hlela after receiving a tip-off about the arrival of a possible drug consignment.

Police allowed Hlela to go through customs and pounced on her when she met a 30-year-old Nigerian man in the arrivals hall. Mdunge named the alleged accomplice as Chukwudi Williams Emeronye.

Emeronye had tried to flee, but was arrested, he said.

The pair appeared in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court yesterday on charges of drug trafficking and dealing in illegal drugs.

The case was adjourned for both accused to find legal representation. They will remain in jail until Friday, when they’re expected to launch a bail application, NPA spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson said.

Mdunge confirmed that Hlela was the alleged kingpin or syndicate leader and described the police’s information as intelligence driven.

Patricia Gerber, the director of Locked Up Abroad, told Weekend Witness last night that drug trafficking was a growing trend.

“It is often hard to keep up with the cases,” she said, adding that the arrest of the alleged kingpin in this case was a step in the right direction.

“The kingpins send our youth out into the wilderness while they sit here in South Africa and reap the benefits of being protected. What is being done to expose these people?”

There have been several high-profile arrests of South African women travelling overseas as alleged drug mules.

In December, following the execution of a South African drug mule in Beijing and the arrest of another in Thailand, it was reported that three other South African women had been arrested in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Nigeria for alleged drug trafficking.

At the time Gerber said the number of South Africans arrested in foreign countries in that month alone totalled a staggering 20.

Gerber told the Voice of the Cape radio station that she believed South Africans were being targeted, as a UN 2010 report stated that South Africa was one of the largest importers and exporters of drugs.

“It is a known fact we have some corrupt airport officials, we have some corrupt police and they are basically involved in this drug trade,” Gerber reportedly said.

Those being caught were not the actual drug mules, as the real ones were carrying much larger quantities of drugs on them.

The mules being caught were decoys to create a distraction.

“The drug mule is the person that carries about 20 kg and they are never arrested,” said Gerber.

“They are the people that are protected by the airport authorities. Those that are arrested are all the decoys because they have small amounts.

“They are recruited to be arrested to take the fall so that when the huge sums come through the attention is off that person that is bringing in that huge drug amount.”

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