R400m cocaine ski boat bust: Accused 'part of international syndicate', court hears

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Neil Pieter Van Zyl, along with his co-accused, a Lithuanian national, Valdas Tenikaitis appear in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court during a previous sitting.
Neil Pieter Van Zyl, along with his co-accused, a Lithuanian national, Valdas Tenikaitis appear in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court during a previous sitting.
News24/Alex Mitchley
  • Five of six men linked to the R400-million cocaine bust in Pretoria in June have applied for bail.
  • According to the State, the accused have been linked to one another through their use of ANOM devices.
  • It is alleged that they are part of an international syndicate which operates in Australia and Europe. 

The six men arrested following the discovery of R400 million's worth of cocaine in Pretoria in June, are allegedly part of an international syndicate that is also being investigated by the FBI and Australia Federal Police (AFP).

This was revealed in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

The State was opposing the bail applications of Neil Pieter van Zyl, Michael Norman, Rashied Baderoen, Rafiek Baderoen and Jaco de Kock.

Their co-accused, Lithuanian national Valdas Tenikaitis, also appeared in the dock but has not applied for bail. 

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Most of the group were arrested throughout June, with De Kock being apprehended in August, after law enforcement discovered more than 800kg of compressed pure cocaine hidden in a 12-foot ski boat. 

The ski boat was being towed by a bakkie that Van Zyl was driving on 2 June.

The investigating officer testified on Tuesday about the alleged involvement of each accused, how they were linked to one another, and were allegedly part of an international syndicate that has caught the attention of American and Australian law enforcement authorities.

The officer testified that all six accused were part of an international syndicate that smuggled cocaine.

He said the syndicate, which also has operations in Australia and Europe, is being investigated by the FBI and AFP. 

The investigating officer added that the cocaine seized in June was destined for Australia.

Haul

The bust came after the investigating officer received information locally and from the AFP that a large haul of cocaine was to be moved from one safe house to another in Gauteng, he testified. 

Following surveillance, Van Zyl was arrested on the N1 near Pretoria.

It is alleged the cocaine was found hidden in the hull of the boat in a makeshift compartment. 

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The court also heard that Van Zyl was allegedly moving the haul from a safe house in Kyalami to another house in The Wilds in Pretoria East.

It was further alleged that both properties were being rented and that the rental had been paid a year in advance, costing more than R700 000. 

The officer said that it was De Kock who had allegedly transferred the money for the rent to Van Zyl via an ATM.

'Trojan Horse'

News24 earlier reported that the suspects were linked to one another through their use of encrypted cellphone devices, whose communications had been intercepted. 

The court heard these cellphones were created by the FBI in 2018.

Criminal syndicates thought they were receiving secured devices, but this was a "Trojan Horse", as the FBI and AFP had covertly distributed the devices to criminal networks in order to monitor them. 

The investigating officer said that no man on the street would be able to get their hands on the device, called ANOM. 

The ANOM devices, to the knowledge of criminal syndicates, were designed to keep identities a secret, automatically deleted encoded messages and had a self-destruct function. 

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"These devices only became active in SA in late May 2021 this year," the investigating officer testified. 

He said it was believed that Van Zyl had one of these ANOM devices on his person at the time of his arrest.

This will be verified by the FBI or AFP. 

The others are also accused of using these devices, but did not have them at the time of their arrest. 

The investigating officer said they had been able to use the ANOM device GPS and physical surveillance to link the accused to the devices.

As a result, communications between the accused had also allegedly been intercepted.

One such communication was revealed in court, with the investigating officer alleging that Van Zyl and Norman, who is said to have been a manager of the syndicate, communicated about the presence of certain vehicles outside one of the safe houses. 

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The investigating officer said the two were talking about the vehicles and were worried that it was either police or robbers looking to steal the cocaine.

Communications also allegedly revealed that Norman and Rashied were actually monitoring Van Zyl as he allegedly tried to move the cocaine from a safe house in Kyalami to another house in Pretoria East. 

Opposing bail 

It was also revealed that three of the accused had previous convictions for racketeering and dealing in abalone. 

The investigating officer testified that the accused were clearly involved in criminal syndicates, and it was only the commodity that had since changed. 

He was of the opinion that all the accused would evade trial if released on bail and that they had the means and money to go on the run. 

He also argued that the accused, if released on bail, would try to get rid of evidence. 

The investigating officer added that they had intercepted communications to one of the accused to dispose of evidence on the same day that the cocaine bust happened. 

"Evidence against the accused is overwhelming , I’m of the opinion we have a strong case and a conviction is imminent," he said. 

Van Zyl previously told the court, through an affidavit, that he had no idea that there were drugs hidden in the boat, while the rest of the accused said they were not involved in drug dealing.

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