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Pretoria - Two foreign nationals believed to be of Chinese descent appear in court on Monday on allegations involving abalone worth an estimated R600 000.
The duo, aged 61 and 27, were caught unawares at their rented double-storey house on a plot in Tyger Valley in the east of Pretoria by the Hawks on Monday.
Hawks spokesman Paul Ramaloko said the duo were found to be in possession of dried abalone, in contravention of the Marine Living Resources Act.
South Africa banned abalone fishing in 2008 and declared the molluscs (a group of invertebrates that include snails) endangered.
It is a highly prized delicacy in Asia, and speculation over the years has been that criminals in South Africa barter abalone for chemicals used in drug production.
A police source at the scene on Monday said that police were aware of this allegation.
Police pounced just after 6am on Monday and found the men in the sparsely furnished house.
The men had been living on the property for less than six months, and allegedly running an abalone processing facility.
It is believed that they were weeks away from exporting the dried abalone, which has been confiscated.
In a section of the house, police found about 200kg of abalone on drying racks, heating elements, fans and thick blankets that were used to contain heat in the rooms.
A large metal makeshift pot, scales, bags of sodium sulphate, empty boxes, and illegal electrical wiring and connections were found in the garage where the men allegedly boiled the abalone before placing it on drying racks.
Although not confirmed by police, it is believed the abalone could have been transported to Pretoria from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Ramaloko said the police acted on a tip-off and more arrests could be made.