Diamond bust: The list gets longer

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IOL pic may14 justice scales file Independent Newspapers .

Kimberley - Another 11 people, believed to be part of an illicit diamond dealing syndicate, have been arrested and appeared in the Kimberley Magistrate’s Court on Monday. This follows one of the biggest illicit diamond busts in the history of South Africa.

Hester Ingala, Antonio Ingala, Bassel Nasser and Ahmed Mamoud were all arrested in Johannesburg over the weekend, while prominent local business people, Antonella and Edward Florio-Poone, owners of Florio-Poone Diamonds, Komilan Packirisamy, the owner of Kim-by-Nite, and McDonald Visser, the owner of Rio Night Club, also appeared in court on Monday.

They, together with Leandro Morolong, Aquila Fisher and Monoj Detroya were arrested or handed themselves over to police on the weekend.

The 11 on Monday joined another 11 of the 15 accused who were arrested on Friday after the Hawks, backed by heavily armed Special Task Force and Tactical Response Team members, raided their homes, businesses and diamond dealerships in Kimberley.

The accused in the case, now totalling 22, are facing charges of illegal diamond dealing, possession and sale of unpolished diamonds and money laundering.

Inside the courtroom a media frenzy ensued on Monday and extra benches had to be carried in to accommodate the 22 accused, charged with contravening the Diamonds Act.

The sting operation follows a two-year-long investigation by a team involving various law-enforcement agencies. Through the use of undercover agents it was discovered that numerous unlawful transactions, involving unwrought diamonds, took place in the Northern Cape, and specifically in Kimberley.

Significant bail amounts were set by Magistrate Roland Birch.

Patrick Mason, Trevor Pikwane and Antonella Florio-Poone were each released on bail of R500 000, while Bassel Nasser, who was one of four suspects arrested in Johannesburg this past weekend, received bail of R750 000.

Kevin Urry was released on R250 000 bail, Ahmed Mamoud on R350 000 and Monoj Detroya on R450 000.

Patricia Lenyebi, whose bail was opposed on Friday, remained in custody over the weekend and on Monday received bail of R50 000.

Muhammed Ahmed’s bail, set at R400 000 on Friday, was reduced to R250 000 on Monday.

Leandro Morolong and Aquila Fisher will remain in custody until Tuesday, when they are to appear for a formal bail application.

Between the 22 accused, more than R4.5 million has already been paid in bail money.

Xeuwei Yang, Spiro Louverdis, Brent Lunt and Andrew Pedisane were released on bail on Friday and they are due back in court on September 15 and are facing separate charges.

Monday’s 22 accused will return to court on October 13.

They are: Ashley Brooks, 55; Carl van Graaff, 47; Sarel van Graaff, 45; Frank Perridge, 63; Willem Weenink, 41; Patricia Lenyebi, 46; Colin Carey, 28; Muhammed Ahmed, 38; Patrick Mason, 42; Kevin Urry, 59; Trevor Pikwane, 64; McDonald Visser, 36; Antonella Florio-Poone, 43; Edward Florio-Poone; Leandro Morolong, 35; Hester Ingala, 68; Antonio Ingala, 70; Bassel Nasser, 38; Ahmed Mamoud; Aquila Fisher, 39; Monoj Detroya, 28; Komilan Packirisamy.

The trial is expected to be heard in the Northern Cape High Court.

Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramoloko said that through a series of “controlled buys” of diamonds over the two-year operation, police established that stones were being stolen from mines and sold with allegedly falsified authenticity certificates to the legal market.

“These diamonds were being sold both in South Africa and internationally to specific buyers. Although we have arrested a lot of the ‘big fish’, there are a few we are still after. We know who they are, where they are and we are coming for them. We have involved our international counterparts to track down a specific person of interest who recently fled to Switzerland, the main destination of a lot of these diamonds,” Ramoloko said.

Meanwhile, family members of the accused and other concerned parties raised concerns on Monday about the manner in which assets, that apparently included extremely rare and valuable diamonds, were confiscated.

“Police came in and confiscated irreplaceable and extremely valuable stones without even properly weighing or taking inventories. We are concerned about the safekeeping measures in place to protect the diamonds, worth millions of rands.

“Most of the accused knew the ‘undercover agent’ that was planted to sell the stones. He was well-known and dealers knew he was not to be trusted. Most of the accused are prominent figures in the diamond industry and would never take the risk of dealing with this man, known to have former convictions,” some close to the case said.

The informant is reportedly currently in police witness protection.

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