Drug lab probe takes sinister twist

2014-06-27 10:04
Forensics teams arrive at the KwaZulu-Natal property where a drug lab was discovered. (Matthew Middleton, The Witness)

Forensics teams arrive at the KwaZulu-Natal property where a drug lab was discovered. (Matthew Middleton, The Witness)

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Jeff Wicks, The Witness

Durban - Forensic detectives swarmed the grounds of the R3bn Kloof drug lab on Thursday, searching for buried bodies and blood as the investigation took a sinister twist.

This came as three men arrested at the manufacturing plant avoided appearing for the first time in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court.

Police are also searching for the owner of the house, Junaid Rasool, 24, who bought it in April for R3.8m.

There was drama at court on Thursday. The youngest accused clung to the cell bars while officers tried to drag him to the dock.

The three were remanded in custody while an army of detectives hunt the cartel’s upper echelon, with their first appearance before the magistrate taking place in the court’s holding cells.

Sniffer dogs

While drama unfolded, specialised search dogs were brought in from across the province to sniff out any trace of human remains.

Police search and rescue officers used a mobile sonar scanning device, tracing lines across the expansive garden, searching for anything buried beneath the manicured lawn.

It is understood that the move was prompted by the discovery of an incomplete underground bunker near the laboratory building.

According to investigators, the subterranean hollow would have housed caches of drugs worth millions.

Forensic detectives also employed the specialised nose of a currency dog, used to locate hidden illicit and counterfeit money.

The expansive property, set in the thicket of gum trees, appears to have been carefully chosen by the international syndicate.

The drug ring had used water sourced from a borehole and generators to provide electricity to avoid a spike in usage on the city’s grid.

Noxious fumes

The search of the scene and the examination of a raft of evidence continues unabated, with an army of forensic investigators working around the clock in shifts.

Clad in blue full body protective wear to guard them from noxious fumes and dangerous industrial agents found at the home, teams of forensic analysts moved about the grounds.

The raid, hailed as the largest single drug bust in the country’s history, came when police crime intelligence officers and members of the Umhlali K9 unit stormed the compound three days ago.

The hunt for the international cartel’s kingpin and upper echelons has begun, with teams of detectives working to trace the provenance of industrial equipment and chemicals that were seized from the scene.

While officers dismantle the complex system of chemical processing equipment, the three suspects will remain behind bars until their next court appearance on 8 July.

Pointing out

Their dramatic first showing in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court followed a brief pointing out, during which the two Chinese nationals accompanied by an interpreter guided police around the Kloof mansion.

When they entered the dock, the three huddled together and hung their heads to shield their faces from cameras.

Their stay in the dock was brief before they were removed from the court when attorney Samlal Garbaran, who represents the foreign nationals, objected to the media’s presence in court.

“They are uncomfortable. They have been intimidated with all these people [the media] who are on top of them in court,” Garbaran said.

State advocate Waldo Smit said that while he understood the public interest, pictures of the accused might jeopardise the investigation.

“I have consulted with the investigating officer and the broadcast and publishing of their pictures and identities may jeopardise future arrests. As such I would bring an application that the identity of the accused not be revealed,” he said.

The names of the accused are known to The Witness but they cannot be published as per an order granted by magistrate Wendy Robinson.

Robinson was forced to conduct the remand hearing in the holding cells after accused number one, a 24-year-old South African, refused to return to the dock. “I am sorry your worship but accused number one is refusing to come back and is clinging to the bars and won’t let go,” Smit said.

The legal representatives and the magistrate then scurried to the cells and remanded them until July 8 so that further investigation could take place.

- Additional reporting by Jonathan Erasmus.

- Durban drug bust special report site

Read more on:    durban  |  narcotics  |  crime

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