Bail for ‘coffee mafia’

2015-11-24 13:39
Businessman George Charalambus.

Businessman George Charalambus. (Jonathan Erasmus, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - A businessman with ties to both Pietermaritzburg and Durban stands accused of stealing 21 000 kg of coffee beans destined for coffee manufacturer Nestle South Africa.

Although the value of the beans at issue is about R600 000, investigators believe this was an organised racket which had likely been ongoing for at least six years, with the likely cost of theft spiralling into millions of rands.

George Charalambus (52) — who runs a stock salvage company within the shipping industry, and at one stage had several ventures operating in Pietermaritzburg that have been either dissolved or liquidated — was found in possession of 21,3 tons of stolen coffee beans destined for Nestle’s own mills, valued at R596 000.

Charalambus, Richard Seaman and Selvanathan Chetty were charged with theft. Seaman and Chetty work for Quayside Warehousing, which handles the stock for Nestle before it is sent to its manufacturing plants. They were each granted bail of R10 000.

Nestle opened the case last week after a joint operation between private investigator Wouter van der Merwe and Pietermaritzburg Hawks officers Andrew Brown and Deon Fleming.

According to police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane, the arrests were made after an intensive operation spanning “several observations”.

The three were arrested last Thursday moments after Charalambus’s truck delivered the product to his warehouse on South Coast Road.

The alleged modus operandi was that Quayside would receive a consignment of coffee beans and repackage it for Nestle. But Seaman and Chetty would allegedly skim off the top and sell the stolen beans to Charalambus at a vastly reduced price.

Coffee beans cost approximately US$2 000 (about R28 100) per ton, whereas it is alleged they sold it to Charalambus for less than R2000 per ton.

Court room chatter between the police and prosecutors revealed that officers believe this may be just the tip of the operation. The court heard that a key witness who was party to all the illegal transactions was willing to testify against his partners.

Charalambus, whose surname was Benchimol until it was legally changed in 2009, owns Salvage and Stockfeed Parcels which, according to its website, is a “multi-specialised entity” that offers services to the shipping industry such as marine salvage, cargo recovery, grain recovery and animal stockfeed and milling services.

Charalambus’s advocate Abubaker Motala told The Witness that his client has been falsely accused, adding that he thought the product was being bought legally.

“He had no knowledge that the goods had been wrongfully or illegally obtained. He thought it was a regular transaction of damaged goods. He is a good man of jovial disposition. It is highly unlikely that a person of his stature and repute would avail himself to the wrongful and unlawful conduct for which he has been charged.”

Motshidisi Mokwena, spokesperson for Nestle South Africa, said: “We are aware of this matter and we would like to clarify that employees involved in this case belong to a third-party company and not Nestle South Africa.”

Durban-based Quayside Warehousing’s Phillip Kay said the company would not comment as the matter was under investigation. He would not be drawn on whether his accused staff had been suspended.

The matter continues on January 13, 2016.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  fraud  |  theft

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