- Three men found guilty of one of the biggest cocaine hauls in South Africa have been handed jail time.
- The three Bulgarian men have been sentenced to a collective 60 years imprisonment.
- The were found transporting R580 million of cocaine.
Three Bulgarian men have been sentenced to a collective 60 years imprisonment after being convicted of one of South Africa's biggest drug busts.
The three men also had assets worth R46.5m forfeited to the state.
"This successful arrest, conviction, sentencing and asset forfeiture follows one of the biggest drug busts in South Africa where 973 bricks of cocaine with an estimated street value of R580 million were found hidden in the hull of a vessel anchored at Saldanha Bay harbour," said National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) regional spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila.
On Monday, 1 March, police seized a shipment of compressed cocaine blocks, hidden in three compartments of a vessel along the West Coast.
The multi-disciplinary operation dates back to January last year, when police received information about cocaine entering the country via Western Cape harbours.
A vessel, the Windward, was identified and traced to where it was anchored at the Table Bay Harbour, explained Ntabazalila.
"It then sailed to Saldanha Bay harbour on January 2021 where it remained while undergoing maintenance. On 25 February 2021, it left the port and underwent a sailing test. It returned the next day. It received a cargo transfer at sea on the evening of 26 February 2021. The vessel returned to the Saldanha Bay harbour in the afternoon of 1 March 2021 and police assisted by members of the Special Task Force, boarded the vessel," he said.
Four Bulgarian men and six Myanmar men were arrested during the operation.
"The State withdrew charges against one Bulgarian man and against the six Myanmar men who were a crew of the vessel," he said.
During a search of the Bulgarians' residence, $1.1 million and €4 300 were found and seized.
The accused, Mario Radoslavov Vasev, Asen Georgiev and Atanas Mihaylov Bikov were found guilty of drug dealing and entering South Africa illegally using fake documents.
Vasev was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for dealing in drugs. The court ordered that 13 years be suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for dealing in drugs.
He was sentenced to a year imprisonment for illegally entering South Africa. This sentence will run concurrently with the sentence for drug dealing.
Ivanov was sentenced to 25 years direct imprisonment for drug dealing.
Twelve years were suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for dealing in drugs. He was sentenced to a year imprisonment for illegally entering South Africa which will run concurrently with the sentence handed down for drug dealing.
Bikov was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment wholly suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for dealing in drugs.
He was sentenced to a year imprisonment for illegally entering South Africa wholly suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for contravention of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002, committed during the period of suspension.
In addition, he paid R2.5 million to the Criminal Asset Recovery Account (CARA) to be used in the fight against crime.
State prosecutor, advocate Aradhana Heeramun, said: "This is the second largest cocaine seizure in South Africa. It is a clear example of an international organised crime syndicate in operation. The illegal trade in narcotics is a prevalent and serious offence. It has ties to gangsterism and other crime and therefore has a huge negative effect on social economic circumstances of communities as a whole."