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GLOBAL DRUG TRADE

SA cops join forces with India to crack down on smugglers hiding cocaine and tik among apples and oranges

SA cops join forces with India to crack down on smugglers hiding cocaine and tik among apples and oranges
(Images: iStock | Unsplash

Indian authorities recently announced they intercepted drugs, worth R4.3 billion, in consignments of apples, pears and oranges, imported from South Africa. Now this country has pledged to help them investigate the smuggling.

Indian cops have asked their South African counterparts to help them investigate where exactly cocaine and methamphetamine, discovered in consignments of imported fruit, came from — and who is behind it.

There are suspicions, based on Directorate of Revenue Intelligence sources quoted in media reports in India, that a syndicate with ties to Pakistan may be linked to the drugs.

On 1 October the Indian government’s Press Information Bureau said 158kg of “high purity” crystal amphetamine, also known as tik, and 9kg of cocaine, worth about Rs 1,476 crore, were discovered in a truck that was intercepted in Vashi, Navi Mumbai.

The drugs, worth roughly R3.2-billion, were discovered in containers of Valencia oranges that were imported to India from South Africa.

On 6 October a container carrying pears and green apples, also imported from South Africa, was intercepted at the Nhava Sheva port.

Fifty bricks of cocaine worth about Rs 502 crore, about R1.1 billion, were discovered hidden among the fruit.

A fresh produce importer was arrested in India, while a second potential suspect, who was from India, and who appeared to have sometimes been based in Gauteng, was flagged.

Company in Johannesburg

The website of the second suspect’s fruit export company, that was based in Johannesburg, showed that consignments of Valencia oranges appeared to have been dispatched (it was not clear where to) monthly via sea freight from July to October.

It further appeared that a variety of apples had also been exported monthly from February, with a consignment of “crisp pink apples” set to be sent off in November.

This week national South African Police Service (SAPS) spokesperson Colonel Athlenda Mathe told Daily Maverick that the major drug busts in India had been discussed.

These discussions happened in New Delhi during the 90th Interpol General Assembly held there between 18 and 21 October.

“The delegation of senior police officers who attended the 90th Interpol General Assembly met with the Indian authorities during bilateral meetings,” Mathe said.

“The Indian authorities requested assistance in a case where drugs were allegedly found in consignments of fruits. The senior officers, inclusive of SAPS and Hawks members, pledged their full support to assist Indian authorities with the investigation to determine the source of the drugs and other aspects related to the case.”

Local grapes and plums

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

Meanwhile, the second suspect, who was sometimes based in South Africa, was linked to an export company with an address in Johannesburg’s industrial suburb of City Deep.

The company was involved in shipping fruit consignments, as well as transporting these by air.

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Last week it appeared a Facebook page under the second suspect’s name, that Daily Maverick was previously able to access, had either been deactivated or deleted.

The Facebook page of the second suspect’s business remained accessible, and photographs showed that in March this year grapes originating from a company in the suburb of Bellville, Cape Town were exported to India.

That month, plums from the Western Cape wine route town of Robertson arrived in India, as did nectarines from the town of Paarl.

Sri Lankan mafia suspicions

Meanwhile, some media outlets in India reported that the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence there, along with the Narcotics Control Bureau, were looking into whether a crime syndicate, known as the Haji Salim cartel, with a base in Pakistan, was involved in the fruit-drug smuggling.

Crime suspect Haji Salim allegedly headed the group.

An unnamed Narcotics Control Bureau official was quoted in The New Indian Express as saying: “Haji lords over the heroin and cocaine trade generated from Afghanistan. India is one of the main hubs for his racket and he has a key role in regulating drug smuggling through the southern route comprising South Africa, Pakistan and India.”

In July this year, India’s National Investigation Agency issued a statement that mentioned Salim, saying officers had searched 22 properties in the state of Tamil Nadu.

This related to investigations into the “Sri Lankan drug mafia” allegedly operated by Salim, described in the statement as a “drug and arms supplie[r] based in Pakistan,” and another who the agency simply identified as C Gunashekharan.

“These drugs and arms traffickers have been operating in India and Sri Lanka and working for the revival of the LTTE and to further its violent activities,” the statement said.

The “LTTE” refers to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers, who want to establish an independent Tamil state.

Heroin stockpiled in SA

Pakistan has before surfaced in terms of drug trafficking and South Africa. 

In March this year, Police Minister Bheki Cele spoke about drugs — specifically heroin — being smuggled through South Africa by way of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The southern route from Afghanistan through Pakistan to Tanzania and Mozambique, remains the main route for heroin into this country,” he said, adding the drug was stockpiled in South Africa for global distribution.

Daily Maverick previously reported that 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 they smuggled was linked to Afghanistan (and possibly the Taliban). DM

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

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