Durban - A police task team set up to probe a sophisticated drug manufacturing operation discovered at a plush Kloof home recently has not yet completed testing all the chemicals found on the premises.
National police spokesman, Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale, said detectives had still not determined or calculated the true haul of the drug bust, which had been dropped from an initial estimate of R3 billion - and paraded on national television - to R20 million when the three suspects appeared in court last week.
According to police, the figure of R20m is likely to increase when the laboratory testing is completed on all the chemicals. The figure could increase further when investigators determine the value of the drug manufacturing equipment - and add the cost of the home if it is seized by the Assets Forfeiture Unit.
In the meantime, police management is having to explain how it got it so wrong when it announced the seizure was the “biggest drug bust ever” two weeks ago.
Police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, flew to Durban and, with provincial commissioner, Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, led the media through the home to parade what she said was pure heroin estimated at R3bn.
However, when the three men arrested in connection with the drug lab - Chinese nationals Wing Lik Wong, 58, and Yip Kin Hung, 56 and Warren Daniels, 24, from Mitchells Plain in Cape Town - appeared in court last week, authorities were forced into an embarrassing climb-down by devaluing the haul to R20m.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesman, Nathi Mncube, said the drugs, which had been found in the house in a sludge and powder form, had been found to be the main ingredient used in mandrax.
“It is not heroin but methaqualone. It is not as big as we thought.”
Makgale said the R3bn estimate was based on the fact that heroin sold for around R1m a kilogram.
“For court purposes and after consulting with the prosecutor, we decided to put a provisional figure of R20m based on what our laboratory confirmed as methaqualone - the final product before compressing into mandrax tablets - and the sludge - a liquid mixture that still needed to be processed into methaqualone,” he said.
“The other factor is that we used the wholesale price of R40 per tablet and not the street value of between R60 and R80 per tablet. We are still busy testing the other contents discovered. Also, the R20m does not include the machines we found at the factory.”
The three accused are expected back in court on Friday. The men are charged with dealing in 2 000 litres and 45kg of methaqualone in liquid sludge and powder form respectively.