Mystery of the declining ‘R3?billion biggest drug bust’

2014-07-09 00:00

THE country’s largest-ever drug bust has almost faded into insignificance as police and NPA officials yesterday scaled down the value of the haul from R3 billion to just R20 million.

Police top brass, grinning for the ranks of TV cameras, had bragged about the biggest drug raid in history — which has turned out to be less than one percent of the original value.

The drug bust, described as a game-changer in the fight against international trafficking syndicates, made international headlines.

DA shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard said the botching of the value cast doubt on the reliability of ­police structures.

“They were talking billions; they were all going to get medals because it was so massive. They made an announcement that the value was R3 billion and it was categorical. Either huge amounts of narcotics are now missing or someone has lied to the public for the appearance of heroism,” she said.

“It is an extraordinary blunder and they come out of it looking extraordinarily foolish.”

This difference in margin was not even mentioned in court yesterday during the second appearance of Capetonian Warren Daniels and Chinese nationals Wing Lik Wong and Yip Kin Hung.

The three were arrested two weeks ago when heavily armed police officers stormed their palatial drug plant in Kloof, one of Durban’s premier suburbs.

The suspects, thought to be underlings in a larger criminal enterprise, were remanded in custody yesterday pending their formal application for bail in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on July 18.

Tons of chemicals used in the production of methaqualone — a base ingredient of Mandrax — were seized by cops in the home, which had been converted to manufacture narcotics.

The three are charged with dealing in drugs and alternatively for being in possession of over 2 000 litres of methaqualone in liquid sludge form and 45 kg of methaqualone powder — a fraction of what was initially reported.

Police spokesperson Captain Thulani Zwane confirmed the value adjustment, and made efforts to explain the faux pas.

“It has to do with the base chemicals used in making Mandrax. We are downscaling the figure to R20 million, but we are still analysing a lot of bags so it could change,” he said.

NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube also confirmed the figure of R20 million, the third adjustment of the value.

First it was R2 billion, then R3 billion, now R20 million.

Since the swoop, police also changed tack on the substance, insisting first that it had been heroin.

The day after the raid two weeks ago, police released a statement titled “KZN drug busting cops make history”.

“On Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, a joint operation successfully uncovered the BIGGEST Drug lab to ever be exposed in the Drug Busting operations in KwaZulu-Natal, at the elite sub-urban area of Hillcrest [sic],” it read.

“Upon searching the premises, they found three men in the premises then discovered a number of 40 kg bags of pure heroin powder as well as industrial manufacturing machines, scale and containers. The total estimated value is over R2 billion.”

Joining teams of detectives and forensic investigators who were flown in from around the country, national police commissioner Riah Phiyega glowed as journalists jostled for positions on tours with her around the palatial drug plant.

It was then, amidst the clattering of camera shutters, that she revised the value of the drugs from R2 billion to R3 billion. “I can confirm that the value of the drugs is R3 billion. We are still counting these 50 kg bags but at the last count, we had counted more than 200,” she said.

Her spokesperson, Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale, said yesterday: “The statement issued by the national commissioner indicated that we suspected the drugs found were heroin. The information was based on site assessment by the technical team. We deliberately said suspected because the material we found had yet to be tested.

“We note the confirmation by the drug laboratory that it was Mandrax being manufactured and we remain pleased that drugs which could have ­destroyed our people’s lives have been removed from the street and a drug factory has been shut down.

“Certainly, more drugs worth many millions would have been produced and many lives destroyed if the drug factory had not been discovered,” he added.

“For court purposes and after consulting with the prosecutor, we only decided to put a provisional figure of R20 million based on what our lab confirmed as methaqualone.

“The other factor is that we used the wholesale price of R40 per tablet and not the street value of between R60 and R80. It also doesn’t include all the machinery found,” he said.

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