Gang digs up ‘treasure’

2014-02-15 00:00

MILLIONS in buried “treasure” is believed to have been dug up and stolen literally from under the feet of police — in the backyard of a plush suburban ­estate.

And at least two police officers have reportedly turned into pirates themselves — having allegedly plundered a fortune in drugs from the same Winston Park crime scene.

On December 2 last year, The Witness reported on how police raided the Winston Park property at 50 Alexander Drive — seizing R41 million worth of drugs, and arresting 19 gang members who had turned the rented property into the biggest drug lab in KZN history.

The horrified owner of the property — accountant Garron Stewart — told Weekend Witness he had sold the property in “a fire sale” even as police investigators were scouring the site for clues.

Yesterday, police declined to say whether they had located or interviewed Stewart’s listed tenant — known as “Strini” — but said no other arrests had yet been made in an ongoing hunt for the kingpins.

However — roughly a week after the last investigator left — brazen members of the same gang returned to their own crime scene with picks and shovels and broke back in to steal the plunder which police had missed.

They had hidden what is believed to be millions in cash in four blue, hand-made barrels — made from plastic 40 cm sewage pipe — and buried them beneath some concrete walkway stones behind the granny flat.

The new owner, Ricardo Fernandes, said the brigands had lifted the steel gate off its rails and left a garage door open, but that there was initially no indication that anything had been stolen from the property. Then he noticed disturbed soil beneath four paving stones, and lifted them to discover the intruders had reburied the four barrels after removing their contents.

He said that — during a police inspection — a police “currency” sniffer dog had indicated that the three dug-up barrels had contained “large amounts of cash”. Although Weekend Witness has no evidence to support the contention, Fernandes said he had been told by a Hawks investigator that “R20 to R40 million” in cash had been removed. Drugs could also have been stashed there.

Fernandes (36) said the as-yet unidentified drug kingpin had chosen the “perfect spot” both to bury and unearth his booty, since a two-metre retaining wall and a row of thick yellow bushes, called “Sheena’s Gold”, blocked the paving stones from the neighbours’ view.

The buried treasure was 45 paces south-east of a large palm tree on the property, and 14 paces due west of a Greek statue in the garden, but Fernandes said the rogues only had to count eight walking stones to find the spot to dig for the first set of two cylindrical chests, and another six to the next set.

Yesterday, there was a moment of excitement at the property when construction worker Martin Keswa dug up a fourth drug treasure barrel, which appeared to be filled with soil. However, Fernandes said he believed police had already checked the barrel and that it had been deliberately filled with soil — “so there’s unfortunately no treasure under there”.

Fernandes admitted he would have tried to “claim” the cash if he had found the treasure first. “I would have moved to the Seychelles with my family and retired. Finders keepers, right?”

Fernandes said that — because the transfer of the house was going through at the time — he would have made an offer to Stewart to split the plunder.

Stewart (44) said he was “in shock” to learn a fortune in illicit cash had been stashed in his backyard, but said, “I would have wanted nothing to do with it — aside from the fact that it’s evidence, these guys would probably have come after me if they found their stuff missing.”

Meanwhile, in yet another twist in the saga of 50 Alexander Drive, SAPS spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed that police members were under investigation for allegedly stealing evidence from the property.

“The case against the police members involved is still under investigation and no arrests have been made,” said Zwane. “An internal investigation is also under way.”

Zwane declined to give details on the investigation into the unearthed barrels. Yesterday, the garage was piled high with beds, appliances, sofas and other furniture owned by the narcotics gang, awaiting collection by the Assets Forfeiture Unit.

Fernandes said he had discovered “other drug paraphernalia” on the property, but doubted whether any more cash or drugs were hidden.

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