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Durban - A multibillion-rand heroin factory was uncovered by a police raid on Tuesday night at an upmarket house in Kloof.
It was the largest drug bust in the country, police said on Wednesday.
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega flew into KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday to visit the site and assess the haul.
Tons of the drug were being processed there and were destined for Indonesia.
Police surprised three suspects, two Chinese nationals and a Cape Town man, aged 22, 55 and 56, in the processing plant upstairs.
They were dressed in protective gear and masks while working on the heroin.
Acting on a tip-off, members of the Hawks KZN Serious Organised Crime Section stormed the Everton Road house on Tuesday night. They were joined by Umhlali K9, Umhlali Task Team, Phoenix Crime Intelligence and the Tactical Response Unit.
They said they seized more than R10 billion worth of uncut heroin, sophisticated drug manufacturing equipment and chemicals.
KZN police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said the heroin was being processed and distributed from the house.
It is believed a fleet of vans had been used to transport the contraband to and from the house at different times of the day.
Members of the SAPS forensic team arrived from Pretoria on Wednesday morning to help in the investigation.
The house, belonging to a South African businessman, was cordoned off as forensic investigators scoured the vast property.
Neighbours in the suburb were shocked at Tuesday night’s action and discovery, unaware of the massive drug operation taking place in their street.
The property has two houses and an outbuilding, and is surrounded by high walls, electric fencing and security cameras.
A neighbour, who declined to be named, said the property had been on the market for R5 million last year.
The house was not furnished. Police believe it was used exclusively as a drug factory.
The arrested men are expected to appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Friday on drug manufacturing charges.
Police found a room with bags of powder, believed to be heroin, stacked neatly against the wall in plastic bags.
A police source said the heroin had been packaged into 60kg lots. In one room alone they found more than 10 tons of it.
Heroin sells for an estimated R350 000 a kilogram. More drugs were found in the two other buildings on the property.
The drug-processing equipment was also “loaded” with drugs, the source said.
Police believe it will take days before the property can be cleared of the drugs.
The source said the smell of chemicals in the house was “overwhelming”.
“We felt dizzy and nauseous. Even the suspects appeared high on the smell. It was really toxic.”
The source described the drug factory as “highly sophisticated”, with the equipment alone believed to be worth about R2bn.
“This is a high-end drug-manufacturing plant. The drugs are for export. At this stage it is believed the packaged drugs were destined for Indonesia,” the source said.
“We spent hours… looking for documents. To our surprise, only three scraps of paper were found in this massive house. It seems like the records of the drug manufacturing and distribution are being kept elsewhere,” said the source.
The investigator said they were tipped off about the house while investigating a R41m drug den that had been uncovered at a house in Gillitts in November.
During that raid, police seized R21.4m worth of “sugars” straws, R4.1m of mandrax and R15m worth of heroin.
Those drugs were destined for Phoenix, Chatsworth, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.
Twenty foreigners were arrested and are expected to stand trial next month.
A Chatsworth businessman, believed to be the kingpin in the Gillitts operation, is still on the run from police.
The source said after the tip-off about a week ago, they conducted a crime intelligence drive.
Police staked out the house before Tuesday night’s raid.
The police said it was believed that the Gillitts operation was linked to the Kloof drug factory.
“Investigations are at a very early stage. This is not just a KwaZulu-Natal operation. There are international links as well,” said the source.
On Wednesday morning curious neighbours watched as police experts gathered at the scene.
The 8 052 square metre property has two driveways, with both gates covered in metal sheeting.
According to a property website, the main house consists of four bedrooms, two lounges, a study, three en-suite bathrooms, a dining area, squash court, three garages and a jacuzzi.
Additional reporting by Zainul Dawood