Cwele’s mysterious trips

2010-02-05 00:00

DRUG trafficking accused Sheryl Cwele (49) has three valid passports, travels abroad regularly and a record of her 16 trips overseas between 2001 and 2009 shows that she has made mainly round trips, “barely sleeping on the other side”, before returning to South Africa.

The purpose of these visits is “not clear”.

These are the findings of a Home Affairs Department investigator, Willem Vorster, whose affidavit was filed in the high court by the prosecution in opposition to the granting of bail to Cwele, estranged wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.

Vorster says forged South African passports are “readily available” and that “factories” making them are run mainly by illegal foreigners of West African origin.

In her affidavit filed earlier this week, Cwele said she had lost her passport and has a temporary passport, which she applied for in December last year as the family was travelling to Mozambique. She had also applied for a permanent passport, which was awaiting collection.

Cwele added that although it is a work requirement for her to have a passport, she is “not really a regular traveller” and that the last overseas trip she undertook was a work-related one to Sweden in 2007 or 2008.

Her bail application will be argued in the high court in Pietermaritzburg before Judge Sharmaine Balton today.

The state suggests in court papers that it has a strong case against Cwele and the “prospect of a conviction is very good”.

The investigating officer, Superintendent Izak Ludick of the Germiston organised crime unit, said the evidence “substantially confirms” the accuracy of assertions by a former south coast woman, Tessa Beetge, who is serving an eight-year jail sentence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for smuggling cocaine. The value of the cocaine is R3 million, said Ludick.

Beetge has implicated Cwele, her former neighbour, as a major roleplayer who she says “duped” her into trafficking. Beetge has made an affidavit that the state will seek to admit as evidence if she cannot come to South Africa to testify, said Ludick.

The state will also call Charmaine Moss — who was allegedly incited to traffic cocaine by Cwele and her co-accused, Nigerian, Frank Nabolisa (41), in similar circumstances to those alleged by Beetge — to give evidence.

Ludick said the evidence of Moss and Beetge is corroborated by SMS messages, e-mails and cellphone records.

The state will argue that Cwele’s efforts to explain her dealings with Moss, Beetge and Nabolisa are “implausible”, he said.

Ludick said examples include Cwele’s failure to explain a series of messages from May 2,2008, sent by her to Nabolisa about “recruiting” Moss and Beetge, or her interest in travel documents being arranged for them and their travel plans.

She also had not explained why her bank account was used by Nabolisa to pay for Beetge’s flight to Johannesburg; why in an SMS on May 19, she had promised Beetge R25 000; and the “unusual instructions” that she and Nabolisa discussed and which were told to Beetge before her departure.

These instructions were that Beetge should be photographed the day before departure wearing the same clothes she was to travel in; her luggage would be collected from her the day before and returned immediately prior to her flight; to check in her luggage and SMS the tag details to Nabolisa, but not to collect the luggage on arrival at Johannesburg.

Ludick said the state has evidence that it is “overwhelmingly probable” that Cwele was in cahoots with Nabolisa to use Moss and Beetge as “drug mules”.

He said that if Cwele is convicted of the main drug trafficking charge, she will face 15 years’ imprisonment, and said he regards her as a flight risk.

Ludick said Cwele failed to reveal in her affidavit that she and her husband are separated and have lived apart since 2005, and said he has established that she has “substantial debt”.

He said he was not able to confirm whether she owns the assets she has listed in her affidavit, including her house, but if she is the owner of a home it is “strange” that she asked Nabolisa for money to pay her rent in an SMS in June 2008.

According to Ludick, when he arrested Cwele last Friday, the entrance to the Hibiscus municipality where she works was “suddenly locked”, and when the doors were opened it was clear that staff were trying to protect her.

Ludick said police had to search the building to find Cwele. “She was found hiding behind a desk, in the dark, and [it] was not even her office,” he said.

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