Drug suspects face life in jail

IN what may be one of the biggest drug trials South Africa has ever seen, two Nigerians and two South Africans are facing a mammoth 532 charges following a two-year sting operation.

Details of the multimillion-rand international drug ring have started emerging in the 60-day trial, which started in the Johannesburg High Court two weeks ago.

Nigerian born Pedro Odoemenam, 41, his brother Obi, 34, Pedro's South African wife Viwe, 39, and police Sergeant Buyisile Nkosi, 40, are facing a lifetime behind bars if convicted of the host of charges against them.

These include manufacturing and selling drugs ranging from cocaine, heroin, dagga, tik, methcathinone (cat) to methamphetamine (ice), worth more than R18-million.

The Odoemenams are accused of running a drug lab from a rented Morningside, Sandton, house and selling drugs – some imported by drug mules from Brazil – to dealers and individuals in some of Johannesburg's wealthiest suburbs, as well as in popular drug hotspots.

The charges paint Pedro Odoemenam as the suspected kingpin of the enterprise, with his brother as his right-hand man and his wife responsible for paying suppliers in Brazil.

The family were nabbed in 2009, two years after police began monitoring them following a tip-off from Klerksdorp police.

As part of a sting operation to uncover the kingpin, police agents posed as drug buyers.

Phone calls were also intercepted by police.

The complex sting operation uncovered a host of drug deals in Johannesburg – including in many top suburbs.

After two years of surveillance, in November 2009 Pedro and Viwe were arrested in a raid on their Sandton home, which they shared with their four minor children. It was bought for R1.5-million in 2008.

Several drug mules linked to the syndicate were also nabbed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Johannesburg.

It is believed Nkosi, then stationed at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport, would ensure the drugs entered the country undetected in exchange for "money and/or gifts".

Another police officer, Sergeant Riaan Newton, then stationed at Hillbrow, was convicted for his part in the syndicate.

At the time of his arrest, he was accused of stashing cocaine worth R540000 in a state vehicle.

Three other suspects are believed to be on the run after they were released on bail.

The lengthy charge sheet sets out each of the over 500 counts, and reflects single deals involving amounts such as R30000, R50000 and R300000.

On one busy day, Pedro is accused of selling hundreds of grams of cocaine and one unit of methamphetamine in nine different sales.

The four accused are out on bail and their trial continues today. - Leonie Wagner