Huge drug haul: three appear

2007-11-12 00:00

Three alleged members of an international drug smuggling syndicate operating between Britain and South Africa pleaded not guilty in a Camperdown regional court yesterday to charges of dealing in cocaine and dagga.

One charge relates to alleged dealing in 8,1 tons of compressed dagga seized by the British authorities at Felixstowe Harbour on September 10 last year.

Another count relates to dealing in 150 kg of cocaine - the second largest cocaine haul ever by South African authorities - seized from a warehouse at Tongaat on October 4 last year, allegedly destined for export to the UK. The street value has been estimated at R200 million.

The trio face two additional charges of dealing in unknown quantities of cocaine between February 2004 and April 2006, and in unknown quantities of cannabis (dagga) between the period April 2005 to May 2006.

The drugs were allegedly smuggled from SA to Britain concealed in secret compartments in crates containing furniture or mirrors.

In court before regional Magistrate Fred Heuer yesterday were British citizens, John Tutton (56), residing at Ballito, and Tommy McKinnon (35) and Ernest Smith (59), both from Umhlanga Rocks.

Smith was last year granted bail of R30 000, but his two co-accused remained in custody awaiting trial.

The three accused all pleaded not guilty and said they were unaware of the drugs that were seized by the police.

The court heard yesterday that police found 150 parcels of cocaine hidden in compartments in two crates containing mirrors due for shipment to the UK at the accused's warehouse in Tongaat on October 4.

Superintendent Johan Meeding of the Organised Crime Unit said the two crates looked different to others in the warehouse as the metal seals and nails used were new. A dog trained to sniff out narcotics reacted positively to the crates indicating that they contained contraband.

In one crate, investigators found mirrors that had been glued together and in the middle was a cavity filled with 129 parcels containing a “white powdery substance” - cocaine. The second crate contained 21 parcels of cocaine. Tutton and McKinnon were arrested at the scene.

The state alleges that Tutton and McKinnon had met Smith - a carpenter and owner of Umhlanga Shop Fitters - in 2001 and went into business with him, operating initially from a warehouse in Gillits Road, Pinetown.

During 2003, Robert Daniel Flook - also a British national, and others allegedly decided to smuggle and export cocaine and dagga from South Africa to Britain.

Flook allegedly ran the operation from the UK, taking delivery of the drugs.

He allegedly liaised with Tutton and McKinnon in this country, and allegedly also made various visits to South Africa, the last being in June 2006.

The accused and Flook allegedly used two British entities, Play Away Events and P & G Mirrors, to smuggle the drugs to the UK, and made use of the services of Tonlee Glass, Spectrum Shipping, Megatrade and Mgeni Shipping to export the drugs from SA, concealed in the crates of furniture or mirrors.

On September 10 last year, the British authorities seized a container of furniture and compressed dagga - allegedly emanating from the accused - when it arrived at Felixstowe Harbour in the UK. The shipment was found to contain 8,1 tons of dagga concealed in various rectangular frames.

After the seizure of the dagga in Britain, the accused allegedly decided to close the operation at the Pinetown warehouse and relocate to the warehouse allegedly obtained by Tutton in Tongaat, where the cocaine was seized. The case continues.

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