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KwaZulu-Natal - A crime syndicate in Lesotho, allegedly trading illegal firearms for drugs from KwaZulu-Natal, has been taken down by police after a six-month covert operation.
Police spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge, said that in the past week almost 330kg of dagga – with a street value of about R1 million had been seized.
Illegal firearms and ammunition were also seized during a week-long sting by the Pietermaritzburg equestrian unit, under the command of Colonel Sean Jacklin.
Eight people were arrested.
“The syndicate attempted to make use of the freezing conditions and heavy snowfall last week to transport the drugs and guns across the border. Police were on full alert and they were intercepted,” Mdunge said.
The arrests took place in harsh terrain at the foothills of the Drakensberg, in the Upper Tugela area.
“This area has been under high-level surveillance by crime intelligence officers. The syndicate is known to use horses and donkeys to transport the drugs across the border. It is a huge problem,” said Mdunge.
“Fortunately, through informers, we have been able to infiltrate the syndicate and prevent a substantial amount of drugs from going into communities. The ringleaders in Lesotho and KZN have been identified. It is just a matter of time before we bring them down.”
In most instances the syndicate in Lesotho traded illegal guns and ammunition for drugs from KZN, he said.
“This is a multimillion-rand operation [but the] criminals in Lesotho do not have cash,” he said.
“They trade guns for the drugs. Most of the illegal firearms have been in circulation since the Struggle days. They are either handguns or rifles.”
In recent months, the Pietermaritzburg unit had carried out joint operations with Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, the SAPS air wing, as well as the SAPS crime intelligence and crime prevention units, he said.
“They have made a number of arrests, recovered unlicensed firearms and ammunition and seized millions of rand worth of drugs.”
This prompted the provincial commissioner, Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni, to issue a directive for further operations in the area, Mdunge said.
The biggest bust came on Friday, when police recovered 14 bags of dagga and arrested two suspects.
Mdunge said warrant officers Kallie Nelson and Shane Howard, Sergeant Robert Sibiya and Constable Eddie Ngubane were manning a vehicle checkpoint in Rookdale Road near Underberg when they spotted a Toyota Hilux bakkie whose driver failed to stop.
“He made a U-turn and raced away. The officers gave chase and managed to stop the bakkie,” he said.
“It was loaded with the 14 bags of dagga weighing 252kg.”
The two suspects were expected to appear in the Underberg Magistrate’s Court today.
Earlier last week, police arrested six other suspects for allegedly dealing in drugs, and unlawful possession of firearms.
Mthandeni Thulele Dladla, 36, was arrested in Situlwane near Bergville for allegedly dealing in dagga.
Several mealie bags packed with the dagga were seized by the police.
Mthandeni Mbatha, 36, was arrested for allegedly being in possession of 8.6kg of dagga.
He was travelling on the R74 in Bergville when police stopped and searched his Toyota Quantum.
Kwenzokuhle Dubazane, 42, was arrested for allegedly being in possession of an unlicensed 9mm pistol and ammunition.
“He was a passenger in a taxi that police had stopped,” Mdunge said.
“The gun was allegedly found in his possession.”
Funani Dlamini, 46, was arrested after police recovered a plastic drum, containing 53 kilograms of dagga, allegedly in his possession.
Thandi Dercco Zulu, 39, was allegedly found in possession of 11.2kg of dagga on the R616 road, near Bergville, while Mdodi Hlongwane was nabbed for 4.6kg of dagga allegedly packed in a suitcase.
He was a passenger in a taxi intercepted and searched on the R616.
The six suspects have appeared in court.
It is unclear, however, whether they were released on bail or remanded in custody. - Daily News