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GLOBAL DRUG TRADE

Tik and cocaine worth billions found in consignments of apples, pears and oranges exported from SA to India

Tik and cocaine worth billions found in consignments of apples, pears and oranges exported from SA to India
(Photos: Unsplash / Wikimedia)

The drug interceptions in India have led to investigators uncovering new smuggling methods between the two countries.

The discovery of cocaine and methamphetamine in consignments of apples, pears and oranges, exported from South Africa to India, marks one of the biggest cocaine busts in India. 

It has also led to investigators uncovering new smuggling methods between the two countries. 

A fruit importer in India has been arrested as part of investigations being carried out there. 

The company linked to the arrested importer is headquartered in Dubai, but according to its website, also has bases in India and South Africa. 

Based on media reports in India, it appears that a second suspect with links to the fruit import-export industry, who is from India and sometimes based in Gauteng, has been identified. 

The names of the two are being withheld because it is not clear how far investigations have developed and who is yet to be charged. 

Gauteng and Western Cape links 

DM168 has established the second suspect is linked to an export company with an address in Johannesburg’s industrial suburb of City Deep. 

On a Facebook profile under the second suspect’s name, posts were shared about fruit consignments that the arrested importer’s company received in India. 

This suggests they did business together. 

Based on import records relating to India, it also appears the second suspect’s company routinely shipped fruits, including fresh pears and plums, from South Africa to India. 

The Facebook page of the arrested importer’s company showed photographs suggesting that some of the fruit it sourced was from the Western Cape, including from the town of Paarl and the Cape Town suburb of Bellville. 

The website of that company said it was a “leading importer and exporter of fresh fruits”. 

Wording on another section on the site, though, appeared garbled, with a section about products saying: “Smells racy free announcing than durable zesty smart exotic far feel. Screamin’ affordable secret way absolutely.” 

While the importer was arrested in India, it was not clear where the second suspect was. 

The SA Police Service did not respond, in time for publication, to a query on whether it was also involved in investigating the matter. 

This is a new kind of modus operandi involving concealment of drugs in the boxes of ‘Valencia Oranges’ imported from South Africa to India. (Photo: India’s Press Information Bureau)

One of India’s biggest drug busts 

Drugs being smuggled in consignments of fresh produce is not unusual. 

In April last year, for example, it was widely reported that Saudi Arabia banned the import of fruit and vegetables from Lebanon because of drug smuggling. 

The drug interceptions in India happened after investigators monitored the operations of a company importing fruit from countries including South Africa. 

For nearly two weeks, officers linked to India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence kept their eyes on imported fruit consignments that, after arriving in that country sometimes via sea, were kept in cold storage. 

After about 12 days, on 1 October, they intercepted a truck after it left a cold storage facility in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. 

The truck was transporting containers of Valencia oranges that were imported to India from South Africa. 

“On thorough checking and examination, a large quantity of drugs were found concealed in the cartons,” a statement, dated 1 October, on the Indian government’s Press Information Bureau said. 

Officers found 158kg of “high purity” crystal methamphetamine, also known as tik, and 9kg of cocaine, worth about Rs 1,476 crore, which converted from Indian currency works out to roughly R3.2-billion. 

“This is one of the biggest seizures of amphetamine and cocaine in the country,” the statement said. 

Photographs of some of the boxes of oranges showed clear plastic packets containing a white substance beneath the fruit. 


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Oranges and tik 

“This is a new kind of modus operandi involving concealment of drugs in the boxes of ‘Valentia Oranges’ imported from South Africa,” the statement said. 

“After clearance of such oranges from the Customs area, the goods used to get stored in some cold storages located in Vashi.” 

The importer was arrested and interrogated. 

Investigations continued. 

On 6 October, barely a week after the first fruit interception and drug discovery, cops pounced again. 

Bricks of cocaine were concealed in boxes of green apples imported into India from South Africa. (Photo: India’s Press Information Bureau)

Green apples and cocaine 

“A container carrying pears and green apples, being imported from South Africa, was intercepted at Nhava Sheva port,” another Press Information Bureau statement said. 

“Upon examination, it was revealed that a large number of bricks made up of high-quality cocaine and weighing approximately 1kg each, were concealed inside the boxes of green apples.” 

A total of 50 cocaine bricks were found worth about Rs 502 crore, which is about R1.1 billion. 

“This cocaine was getting imported in the name of the same importer who was earlier arrested,” the statement alleged. 

Photographs showed flat bricks — one with a butterfly logo on it — bound in plastic and displayed on the apples. 

The importer faces charges in connection with both drug interceptions. 

Mandrax and heroin 

India has other connections to South Africa in terms of the drug trade. 

Mandrax and heroin are known to be smuggled between the countries. 

DM168 previously reported on how Vijaygiri “Vicky” Goswami, of India and who spent some time in South Africa in the 1990s, testified in a US court case in 2019 about drug dealing via this country. 

He had effectively said he and a few associates had tried to dominate South Africa’s Mandrax trade. 

In September last year, DM168 also reported on how heroin meant for various international markets was being smuggled through South Africa and ending up in India — and vice versa. 

Drug mules travelling by plane were involved in those networks. 

There were suggestions the heroin was linked to Afghanistan (and possibly the Taliban). DM168

Caryn Dolley has spent years tracing the footprints of kingpins from across the world. In her latest book Clash of the Cartels, Dolley provides unprecedented insight into how specific drug cartels and syndicates have operated via South Africa, becoming embroiled in deadly violence in the country and bolstering local criminal networks. Available for pre-order from the Daily Maverick Shop here.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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