THE net is closing on a suspected underground organised crime drug ring fuelling the Nelson Mandela Bay drug trade following the arrest of six alleged traffickers during a raid yesterday.
The six suspects – five men and a woman between the ages of 28 and 54 – were arrested during a joint operation in which police raided 11 houses around Port Elizabeth.
Police confiscated cash, cellphones, SIM cards and other IT equipment during the nearly 12-hour operation that started at 2am.
“Operation Dollie” was sanctioned by provincial police bosses after police discovered that one of the main drug suppliers to several northern areas gangs and other smaller dealers was believed to be fronting as a businessman whose adult children were also involved.
They allegedly supplied drugs including tik, cocaine, dagga, mandrax and heroin.
A year-long investigation followed that involved undercover organised crime operatives infiltrating the drug network in an attempt to catch the kingpin and stop the smuggling of drugs into the Bay and surrounding towns.
Specialist policing units including Crime Intelligence, the K9 unit, the Tactical Response Team and the Cyber Unit also assisted with the raid. The SA Revenue Service (SARS) and the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) were also roped in to investigate their finances and look into attaching assets.
While the suspected kingpin was not arrested during yesterday’s operation, police raided his lavish Lovemore Heights home and confiscated several documents and other evidence.
Colonel Hyron Booysen, head of the Port Elizabeth branch of the Hawks’ Organised Crime Unit, said they had not arrested the alleged kingpin – he cannot be named to protect the investigation – so detectives could gather more evidence and hopefully expose his suppliers.
“The other suspects were arrested on warrants of arrest issued by local magistrates. At the same time we attained search and seizure warrants to search all the premises for anything that could assist with the investigation,” he said.
“We cannot arrest the suspected ring leader at this stage on the guidance of the senior state prosecutors who are working with us.
“We obviously listen to their advice as they will be prosecuting the syndicate and we need to arm them with the best information possible to secure a hefty sentence. This was part of a year-long investigation in which a total of 17 criminal cases were opened and several undercover agents deployed.”
Booysen said the alleged kingpin’s son and daughter were among those arrested. None of the suspects can be named until they appear in court. “We believe that his children have been ’employed’ as traffickers and are growing the family business. The family also own two funeral parlours in New Brighton which are suspected drug posts,” he said.
Police found mandrax tablets at some of the drug posts and traces of drugs at others.
“Our information tells us that this group is directly linked to a national syndicate who are supplying them with various types of drugs which they are believed to in turn sell to their suppliers. We are working hand in hand with our counterparts in other areas to trace the source or factory from where these drugs are coming,” Booysen said.
“It is believed that they are transporting the drugs from factories from other provinces but at this stage we cannot divulge more than that.”
Police spokesman Captain Stanley Jarvis said the six faced charges ranging from money laundering to racketeering and drug dealing.
“Investigators believe that this group purchased expensive assets such as houses and cars with money that had been gained from suspected criminal activity.”
Jarvis said R41000 in cash, cellphones, numerous SIM cards, laptops, computer hard drives and flash drives were confiscated from all the drug dens during the raid. Specialist computer investigators also assisted.
“This team will use the latest and most sophisticated technology to access cellphones and computers so that we can identify any money transfers and collect other data which will link all the men and hopefully expose who these drugs are dispersed to,” Jarvis said.
The six suspects will appear in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court on Monday.