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Police are investigating the role of fellow officers in an alleged human trafficking case involving 26 Thai women who were arrested in a dramatic raid on Durban's After Dark "gentlemen's club" last weekend.
Four of the Thai women and one man have turned state witnesses and are expected to implicate other players in syndicates.
The probe has also been widened to include the murder of a young Thai woman, whose battered body was found near the N3 at Camperdown last month.
The woman had been in the country illegally and was believed to have been working as a prostitute in a brothel in the Midlands.
Investigations by the Tribune have revealed that some members of the SAPS had used their houses to keep Thai women. The policemen allegedly worked in tandem with trafficking syndicates and were instrumental in instilling fear in the girls, forcing them into prostitution.
Brothel owners would allegedly use the corrupt police to scare the girls, telling them that if they refused to obey their orders they would be thrown into jail for being in the country illegally.
Last week 26 women and four men, most, were arrested in two raids. The raid led to the closure of the After Dark club in Cato Street and the discovery of other women at a private property in Pinetown.
They appeared in court on Monday on charges of prostitution and being in the country illegally and their case was postponed to January 12 for further investigation. They remain in custody.
Sources told the Tribune Thai girls were lured into the country by false promises that employment opportunities were abundant in South Africa and that they would work in the hospitality industry. Once here they were sold into prostitution and their passports confiscated.
Experts said the market for Asian girls was flourishing.
The sources said that three kingpins - who were now in hiding - had been identified, two in KwaZulu-Natal and one in Gauteng, and warrants for their arrest had been issued.
The Gauteng kingpin is said to have direct links to human trafficking syndicates in Thailand and usually receives new recruits from OR Tambo International Airport.
Unconfirmed reports state that the police, as part of their ongoing investigations, have uncovered a money trail between South African criminals and their Thai counterparts, running into millions of rands.
The Thai syndicates are allegedly paid R60 000 for each girl.
Police, however, are tightlipped on the developments, except to quote the official line, "We are still investigating".
On Friday lawyers representing the Thai nationals brought an application before the Durban magistrate's court for the release of the suspects from custody. This was opposed by the state, which argued that the suspects were already in the country illegally and that they should not be granted bail.
The application failed and the 25 suspects were transferred to Westville Prison. The other five were moved to a safe house and will be placed under witness protection.
The Tribune can also reveal that senior counsel Jimmy Howse, whose list of clients has included former housing boss Mdu Khoza, attorney Ian Stokes and the AbaThembu King, Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo, has been consulted to represent the girls.
Howse confirmed this.
Who is paying for the Thai girls' legal fees is not known.
Also in court were SAPS investigators from Camperdown who are working closely with the Durban organised crime unit. The Camperdown police are investigating the death of a Thai woman.
Following the article in the Tribune which said that the police had contact details of individuals and influential persons who had frequented the two venues, organised crime unit head Snr Supt Rajen Aiyer said they had been inundated with calls from people confessing their visits to the alleged brothels.
This was to prevent the police visiting these men at their homes and places of work.
"We have started to dissect and analyse the entire process. We are sending a strong message that we will not tolerate this kind of activity in KwaZulu-Natal", he said.