Sheryl Cwele guilty

2011-05-06 00:00

DISMAY was etched on the face of Sheryl Cwele yesterday as Pietermaritzburg high court Judge Pete Koen pronounced her guilty of international drug smuggling along with her co-accused, Nigerian national Frank Nabolisa.

The court ruled that Cwele and Nabolisa had formed a common purpose to recruit two South Coast women — Tessa Beetge and Charmaine Moss — for use as drug mules to traffic drugs into South Africa from overseas countries.

Beetge was arrested in possession of 10,23 kg of cocaine at Sao Paulo airport and is serving a jail sentence in Brazil. Moss — fortunately for her, the court said — withdrew from the deal in time.

A stony-faced Cwele pushed past journalists hoping for a response after the verdict and she did not linger in the corridors of the court.

Many of her supporters attended yesterday’s hearing, clearly in the hope that she might be acquitted.

Cwele’s husband, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, has not attended the trial since Cwele’s first appearance for her bail application.

Judge Koen extended Cwele’s R100 000 bail until today when he will hear submissions on sentencing from the state and defence.

The judge refused earlier yesterday not to allow the state to reopen its case in order to try to close a technical loophole.

That and his findings during judgment that the authenticity of various intercepted phone calls and SMSes had not been properly proved by the state, would have encouraged the defence to hope the accused would be acquittal.

However, after evaluating all the evidence and taking into account that neither accused gave evidence in rebuttal, the court said the only reasonable inference was that Cwele and Nabolisa had collaborated to use Moss and Beetge as agents to get drugs into South Africa from abroad.

The judge said Cwele and Nabolisa had not explained the repeated contact between them and with Moss and Beetge, which had to be viewed against the background that Beetge was arrested for possession of cocaine and that Moss had been told by Cwele that she had to “collect a parcel” in Turkey and bring it to South Africa.

The similarities in the circumstances in which Beetge and Moss were recruited led to an irresistible inference that the “parcel” Moss would have been required to bring back would also have contained drugs, like the parcels of cocaine Beetge was arrested for.

The judge said Cwele claimed she recruited Beetge because Nabolisa asked her to recommend people she trusted — preferably white women — who could head his company in Johannesburg. But the court questioned how she could have vouched for the trustworthiness of either Beetge or Moss, with whom she’d had limited contact some time previously as a neighbour and beauty therapist respectively.

He also questioned how Cwele would be able to decide on a candidate to head Nabolisa’s company without knowing what her responsbilities might entail and what her qualifications or attributes should be.

The judge said Cwele knew the “business venture” for which Beetge was required would be for two weeks and would pay £1 000 per week (or R25 000 according to an SMS sent by Cwele to Beetge). Significantly, this was also the amount Moss was to earn.

“How could anyone effectively head a company if she was only to be involved for two weeks?” the judge asked.

He also rejected Cwele’s version that she had no inkling that Beetge would work overseas and that the disussion about her going to London had been a ruse to persuade Beetge’s mother to let her leave the South Coast to work in Johannesburg.

If that was the case the judge said, why would Cwele have asked Beetge as early as May 3, 2008, to bring her passport.

A later SMS referred to flights being full and “trying Holland in Europe”.

He said there was no reason for Cwele to concern herself “so intimately with travel arrangements overseas” for Beetge unless she was directly involved in the plan for her to bring back drugs as a drug mule.

As far as Beetge was concerned, the court said, although it might be debatable whether she knew early on the true purpose of her trip overseas, the probabilities were that she knew she was travelling overseas “for a nefarious or at least suspect” purpose , and possibly that she knew she was to serve as a drug mule.

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