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DRUGS DONS (PART TWO)

Cuban kingpin Yester-Garrido and the booming cocaine conduit between SA and Brazil

Cuban kingpin Yester-Garrido and the booming cocaine conduit between SA and Brazil
Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido. (Photo: dea.gov)

Part One of our Where Are They Now drug dons series dealt with politics plus global and local figures and their (suspected or confirmed) links to SA’s narco trade. Part Two focuses on another kingpin, Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido, following his US-driven arrest once he was out of this country.

Prison records show that on 24 January 2022, an inmate was released from jail in the US.

His name — Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido.

Originally from Cuba, he has direct connections to South Africa, where some knew him simply as Tony Yester.

In this country, Yester-Garrido’s name often crops up in conversations about the likes of Glenn Agliotti, a Gauteng-based convicted drug dealer who former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi had a corrupt relationship with.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Glenn Agliotti — from second-hand sales to narcotrafficking and bribing SA’s top cop with designer threads

Suspicions about Selebi also surfaced in other organised crime quarters and were along the lines of him being present at a cricket match in Gauteng in 2003 with India’s Dawood Ibrahim, who became a wanted drug trafficking terrorist suspect. (See part one.)

As for Yester-Garrido, he has an expansive history that has involved brushing against the law several times and is a mishmash of countries and striking accusations.

Escobar agent and a Russian ‘narcosub’

Daily Maverick previously reported that Yester-Garrido’s former associates, in the documentary Operation Odessa which aired in 2018, described him as a Cuban secret service agent who worked with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

In the documentary, Yester-Garrido himself recalled being on the run and getting into Cuba illegally while evading US authorities.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Escobar man’s ‘Narcos’-styled life: How a Cuban drug lord ran a global cartel from the safe haven of South Africa

US court papers against Yester-Garrido once alleged: “In the mid-1990s, Yester-Garrido, along with others in South Florida, attempted to smuggle cocaine from Ecuador to St Petersburg, Russia, concealed in shipments of shrimp.

“Additionally, Yester-Garrido and his coconspirators negotiated the purchase of a Russian diesel submarine for Colombian drug suppliers who intended to use it to transport cocaine to the west coast of the United States.”

Charges relating to that were later scrapped.

But accusations against Yester-Garrido sprawl out further and knot into South Africa.

SA and the Dominican drug debt

A snapshot of those is that the US previously alleged that Yester-Garrido was involved with high-level cocaine dealing from the 1980s until 1997 when he moved (authorities there say “fled”) to South Africa, from where he resumed his drug-dealing operations.

He based himself in Gauteng.

According to the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, between December 2014 and February 2015, Yester-Garrido conspired with others to distribute a mass of marijuana in Florida.

“Yester-Garrido’s specific role in the drug trafficking conspiracy was to assist, from South Africa, in trying to collect a $250,000 debt that was owed to co-conspirators by a Dominican drug-trafficking group,” that office had said in a press release.

He was arrested while travelling in Rome in 2017.

Jailed

It is not clear why US authorities did not pounce on Yester-Garrido while he was in South Africa and instead seemed to wait for him to be in another country.

Two years later, in 2019, Yester-Garrido was extradited to the US.

The following year, 2020, he entered a plea agreement in the US admitting guilt on the marijuana-related charge.

Read more in Daily Maverick: US jails Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido, the Cuban drug lord who operated from South Africa

Yester-Garrido faced a maximum of 40 years in jail.

In December 2020 he was sentenced to five years behind bars.

US prison records show a man matching his name and age was released from custody there on 24 January 2022.

Yester-Garrido therefore only spent about 14 months in jail following his sentencing, despite the extreme accusations previously made against him — and his own admissions, in the documentary, relating to once evading US authorities.

Tracked to Miami

On 12 February 2024, Benjamin O’Cone, of the US’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, confirmed to Daily Maverick that Yester-Garrido had been released on 24 January 2022.

The last prison institution to which he was located was the Federal Detention Centre in Miami.

“For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not discuss any incarcerated individual’s conditions of confinement, including release plans,” O’Cone said.

“However, generally speaking, projected release dates are calculated with several factors in mind.”

Factors included that inmates could earn up to 54 days of “good conduct time” for each year served, which could result in time being shaved off their sentences.

They could also receive credit for time jailed before being sentenced. (In Yester-Garrido’s case, he was arrested in Rome in October 2017, meaning by the time he was sentenced in the US in December 2020, he had already been detained for more than three years.)

Inmates could be released up to a year early if they completed a Federal Bureau of Prisons “Residential Drug Abuse Program.”

Some could also, via court orders, be granted a compassionate release relating to old age or medical conditions.

Lost in translation

Previously, when Yester-Garrido was based in South Africa, he was kept in custody for a while due to certain legal issues, but he was never convicted here.

One of those issues involved his arrest and was linked to the August 2010 interception of 1,66kg of cocaine at the Eastern Cape’s port of Ngqura.

He was let off the hook in that matter — apparently because court papers in Portuguese could not be translated into English.

US court documents against Yester-Garrido had stated: “The charges [from South Africa] were dismissed because of a lack of translation of a transcript in February 2013”.

This is where some unsettling claims linked to Yester-Garrido’s name, and other organised crime nodes in South Africa, surface.

Info peddler and Krejcír

Some of those emanated from a self-styled informant, Pierre Theron, who turned out to be a rather dubious information peddler and who previously surfaced in some strange Western Cape political shenanigans.

Theron purported to be a close associate of Gauteng-based Czech crime boss Radovan Krejcír, whose name is tailed by cop corruption accusations.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SAPS Wars, Part Two: It ain’t over till the fat Czech sings

In an October 2015 affidavit, Theron claimed that once in 2013 he was told to drive from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth with “an attaché case with R700,000”.

He claimed he was told the “money was for the state team that was to prosecute Pablo Garrido for the 1,66kg of cocaine.”

After that, according to Theron’s claims, the charges against Yester-Garrido were dropped.

It is not clear what since became of Theron.

Krejcír, who has made claims ranging from police officers framing him to that he was associated with Jacob Zuma’s family, was jailed in this country for crimes not related to Yester-Garrido.

Meanwhile, past issues once linked to Yester-Garrido, via suspicions and accusations, are still relevant in South Africa.

Past, present and Brazil

This is because Brazil is in the mix.

Court papers from Brazil, dated 2011, referenced Yester-Garrido and the 1,66kg cocaine intercepted in South Africa the previous year — which he was arrested for and then basically cleared of.

The Brazil documents said the cocaine had been sourced in Paraguay and was earmarked for Europe and this country.

It also said Brazil’s Port of Santos was to be used as part of that trafficking chain.

Smuggling between that specific port and South Africa branches out into other thick webs of organised crime still affecting this country.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cocaine’s deadly destinations – the Durban link to the bodies piling up in Brazil’s drug battles

Daily Maverick has previously reported that a two-decades-old cocaine-smuggling channel is in operation between the Port of Durban and the Port of Santos.

South African authorities have before said police officers have been arrested in connection with Durban drug busts.

Fugitive jailed again

On the Brazil side of things, one of that country’s most powerful gangs, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), or First Capital Command, is known to operate via the Santos port.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Blood ties: South Africa caught in a web of murderous, drug-smuggling Brazilian gangs

And Daily Maverick has before explained how alleged PCC boss, Gilberto Aparecido dos Santos, also known as Fuminho, was once in South Africa.

Several police officers in this country suspect Dos Santos may have been connected to cocaine networks running through this country.

Dos Santos, who escaped from a jail in Brazil in 1998 and who had been on the run since then, used false documents in South Africa in the name of “Luiz Gomes de Jesus’” ahead of his 2020 arrest in Mozambique.

Unlike some criminal counterparts, Dos Santos has not been let off the criminal hook and has not been given a light prison term.

In 2022 he was sentenced to 26 years in jail in Brazil for crimes including drug trafficking.

Continuous cocaine corridor

Despite some high-level arrests over the years, the cocaine conduit between Brazil and South Africa is still booming.

Over two months until early December 2023, cocaine worth more than R360-million from Brazil was discovered in this country.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fugitives and fake passports — Brazil’s ‘Cocaine Queen’ investigation and the R700m drug stash sent to SA

The series of interceptions started in October when a vessel making its way from Brazil was searched in Durban harbour and R70-million worth of cocaine was discovered on it.

Another of the interceptions involved police finding a R65-million cocaine consignment the following month — November last year.

That crackdown happened on a vessel that travelled from Brazil to a seaport in Gqeberha, in the Eastern Cape — which is coincidentally the same province where the 1,66kg cocaine was intercepted in 2010, for which Yester-Garrido was arrested in the case that fell away. DM

This is the second instalment in a three-part Where Are They Now series about SA’s drug dons. Read Part One here. Read the third instalment in 168 next week. 

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    South Africa is the new Wild West – anything goes…Crime is part of the game….the weaker our government the more it will continue!

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Funny how sanctions can be imposed against a country,but neved for dryg smuggling?Brazil,Equador,Padagusy ,Mexico, Columbia?

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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