Police on Monday seized about 60 000 cellphone starter packs – all registered to one untraceable person – and put a dent into a syndicate believed to be raking in millions.
The packs were destined for small cellphone outlets in Durban and could be purchased without proof of identification – which by law is compulsory.
Members of the Durban Dog Unit arrested a 37-year-old man while he was seated in his vehicle at the corner of Dr Goonam (Prince Edward) Street and Ingcuce (Albert) Road.
He had 4 000 Sim starter packs in the car – a search of the man’s Isipingo Beach home led to the recovery of about 60 000 starter packs. Police thought the packs were sold for R20 each and have a street value of R1.2 million.
A Rica machine, only allowed to be in the possession of registered cellphone providers, was also found at the man’s house.
When the Department of Telecommunications made the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (Rica) law on July 1, its main aim was to help law enforcement agencies track criminals using cellphones for illegal activities.
Rica applies to all cellphone and data users, including foreign visitors and non-South African residents who have Sim cards.
They can use a passport, refugee document or address of their originating country to register their Sim cards.
The arrested man is believed to be part of a national syndicate.
The more than 60 000 Sim-cards had all been registered in the arrested man’s name, but with fictitious details, such as identity number and address.
According to the police, the man’s bank account was credited with R10 for every Sim card that was activated.
The bust was made by the Dog Unit after an anonymous tip-off.
Provincial police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said members of the unit had been patrolling the CBD when they were alerted to the alleged shady activities of the man at the corner of Dr Goonam Street and Ingcuce Road.
The man was seated in a white Honda Ballade when police swooped.
During a search of his car, more than 4 000 Sim-cards were seized. They then took him to his home.
Zwane said police were concerned about the man’s activities as criminals could easily obtain the illegal Sim cards from the unscrupulous dealers.
A police source said the man was a Pakistani national living and working in South Africa.
When police arrived at his home, his South African-born wife and children were home. His South African identity document was also seized.
Police said when the woman spotted police, she attempted to smash a computer and Rica machine by throwing them on the floor.
They discovered the loot in a garage. The computer equipment was also seized.
The source said the starter packs were from three major cellphone operators in the country.
“There were boxes and boxes of the starter packs. It took the team more than three hours to load them into the vans. Most the stuff had been couriered from Johannesburg. It appears that the man was working in cahoots with people possibly employed by the service providers.
“The starter packs were all sealed and do not appear suspicious on the surface. We managed to establish all the packs had been Rica’d because they were marked with pink paint. He also confirmed the status to police.
“The boxes were delivered by a reputable courier company. It seems it is a well-oiled operation that is worth multimillions.”
The man allegedly received some of the goods Rica registered while the rest he did at his home with the Rica machine, the source said.
The man apparently refused to disclose where he got the Rica machine from or how much he was selling the starter packs for.
“The Rica machine allowed him to create the (identity) using a false identity number, residential address and other personal details,” the police source said.
“What is so worrying, is that there is no way to trace the Sim cards. According to Rica they all belong to (him). All 60 000 of them.
“This shows there is a loophole that the Department of Telecommunications needs to close in on. Criminals can easily obtain their starter packs over the counter. (One can) conduct illegal activities and then get rid of it.
“There will be no way of tracking it. We thought we had a problem with pirate dvds, this is a new storm to hit us.”
The man is expected to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court later this week on charges of contravening the telecommunications act and fraud.
He is in custody at the Durban Central Police Station. - Daily News