Police made a massive cocaine bust at the Saldanha Bay Harbour in March worth R580 million. Three Bulgarians have been sentenced in this matter. Picture: SAPS
Police made a massive cocaine bust at the Saldanha Bay Harbour in March worth R580 million. Three Bulgarians have been sentenced in this matter. Picture: SAPS

Bulgarian drug dealers caught in R580 million cocaine bust sentenced

By Robin-Lee Francke Time of article published May 17, 2021

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Cape Town - Three men from Bulgaria were sentenced to a collective 60 years’ imprisonment in the Vredenburg Magistrate’s Court and their assets worth R46.5 million were forfeited to the state.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said in a statement that this was one of the biggest drug busts in South Africa after 973 bricks of cocaine with an estimated street value of R580 million were found hidden in the hull of a fishing vessel which anchored at the Saldanha Bay Harbour earlier this year.

Mario Radoslavov Vasev, Asen Georgiev and Atanas Mihaylov Bikov were convicted of drug dealing and entering South Africa illegally using fake documents.

Last year, police received information about cocaine entering the country via the harbours in Cape Town.

The fishing vessel, identified as the Wind Ward, was traced to where it anchored at the Table Bay Harbour.

Police made a massive cocaine bust at the Saldanha Bay Harbour in March worth R580 million. Three Bulgarians have been sentenced for the crime. Picture: SAPS

Police then traced it sailing to Saldanha Bay Harbour in January, where it underwent maintenance.

On February 25, the vessel underwent a sailing test and returned to the harbour the next day.

On February 26, it received a cargo transfer at sea and when the vessel returned to the harbour on March 1, police assisted by members of the Special Task Force team boarded the vessel and initially arrested 10 suspects.

The fishing vessel where one of the country’s biggest cocaine busts was made. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Four Bulgarian men and six men from Myanmar were initially arrested. However, the state withdrew charges against the men from Myanmar and one Bulgarian.

Court documents revealed that during a search of the residence of the Bulgarians, police found and seized R15.9 million and R73 813.

An order by the Asset Forfeiture Unit saw two luxury SUVs, the Wind Ward and two other vessels seized and forfeited to the state.

Initially 10 suspects were arrested, four from Bulgaria and six from Myanmar, but charges were dropped against the Myanmar suspects and one Bulgarian. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Vasev was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for dealing in drugs. The court ordered that 13 years of his sentence be suspended for five years on condition he is not convicted of dealing in drugs.

He was also sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for illegally entering the country and his sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

Georgiev was sentenced to 25 years’ direct imprisonment for drug dealing, of which 12 years were suspended for five years on condition he is not convicted of dealing in drugs.

He was also sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for illegally entering the country. The sentences will run concurrently.

Bikov was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for dealing in drugs, wholly suspended for five years on condition he is not convicted of drug dealing.

He was also sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for illegally entering South Africa, wholly suspended for five years on condition he is not convicted of contravening the Immigration Act during the period of suspension.

Bikov also paid R2.5 million to the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (CARA) to be used in the fight against crime.

African News Agency (ANA)

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