Window into the foul world of drugs

2010-10-17 09:53

The cocaine-smuggling trial of state security minister Siyabonga Cwele’s wife Sheryl has opened a fascinating window on the highly lucrative cocaine trade between South America and South Africa.

As the trial progresses, the ­critical role of corrupt airports and customs officials in the deadly ­industry has emerged.

Lieutenant-Colonel Johann Ludick, the investigating officer in the case against Cwele and Nigerian national Frank Nabolisa, told the Pietermaritzburg High Court this week that corrupt customs and police officials at airports were paid handsomely to allow consignments of cocaine into South Africa.

“There are officials that must be paid in South Africa and in countries where drugs are procured,” Ludick said.

The state alleges that Cwele and Nabolisa conspired to recruit Tessa Beetge and Charmaine Moss as drug mules.

Moss turned down the offer when she heard that her job was not to be an administrator, as promised, but to bring a parcel from Turkey for Nabolisa.

Beetge was arrested in June 2008 and is currently serving an eight-year jail sentence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, after 10kg of raw cocaine was found in her luggage.

Ludick said drug mules were told not to change their clothes for the duration of their trips so that they could easily be identified by ­corrupt officials.

From South Africa, Beetge had allegedly travelled to Colombia, Peru and subsequently Brazil where she was arrested.

Ludick said when drug mules ­arrived at South African airports they did not collect their bags which contained drugs.
“The bags end up being put in the lost-and-found section where they end up being taken to the importer (druglord) by the officials,” he said.

In other instances corrupt cops would pretend they were arresting a person who had been found in possession of drugs at the airport but then let them go.

Judge Piet Koen said Beetge should be subpoenaed to testify, ­either by video link, or at a hearing attended by South African court officials in Brazil.

Cwele’s advocate Mvuseni Ngubane said his client had no idea how Beetge ended up in Brazil.

However, emails and cellphone text messages admitted as evidence in court on Thursday showed Cwele allegedly arranged flight tickets for Beetge from Lima, Peru, to Sao Paulo in Brazil.
In most of the emails, Beetge said she was tired of waiting for her return to South Africa.

She wrote: “I am waiting for a ­reply from you and Frank and wanting to go home. I am still freezing my butt off in Peru, with Frank that (sic) is telling me to wait and wait and wait, and then when it is time to go I am ready and they cancelled everything again.”

Cwele wrote back: “Frank told me about the delay, which I think is for your own good really. Keep well and avoid people who may end up asking a lot of questions.”

Cwele has not denied knowing Moss and Beetge.

Ngubane said Cwele told him she had arranged for Moss and Beetge to work for Nabolisa as he was looking for whites to market his company to other white people.

Nabolisa’s company was based in Johannesburg.

Cwele and Beetge had hatched a plan that Beetge was going to work in London because her mother, Marie Swanepoel, did not want her to move to Johannesburg, ­Ngubane said.

Beetge’s former boyfriend Hendrik Claasen on Thursday testified that Cwele also tried to recruit him to “work” overseas. He said he had turned down the offer.

Claasen said Cwele had told him Beetge would work in London. She would get free travel, free accommodation, free clothing and R1?000 per week.

She would be in London for two weeks.

The state is expected to call Jean Carlos de Bortole of the Brazilian federal police, Carolina Passato Braga, and Denilison Ricardo Maia whose expertise is examining drugs. Four witnesses have testified since the start of the trial on ­Monday.

Moss’s testimony had to be shelved after she complained of being in a poor emotional state.

State advocate Ian Cooke said Moss’s doctor had diagnosed her with hypertension, insomnia and an anxiety disorder.

Both Cwele and Nabolisa have pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Cwele was granted R100 000 bail on February 5.

Nabolisa was denied bail because the court considered him a flight risk.

The trial resumes tomorrow.

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