Durban - A suspected drug kingpin linked to an international syndicate that wholesales cocaine and recruits drug mules in South Africa has been arrested in Durban.

The 40-year-old man, who has allegedly been involved in the illicit trade for more than 18 years, was arrested on Wednesday at a lodge in Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road by police crime intelligence officers.

He is believed to be one of the largest cocaine dealers in the country and allegedly runs his multi-billion-rand operation from Durban.

A police source said undercover agents had bought cocaine worth more than R15 000 from him, using marked money.

A runner who delivered the drugs to the agent was also arrested. As police swooped on the eight-storey building, the man allegedly threw the marked money out of a window.

They are facing charges of dealing in cocaine. A senior police source said the man had been operating in the Durban CBD: “He has built a cocaine empire in KZN. He started as a runner and is now a drug kingpin. He wholesales cocaine (which) sells for up to R250 000 a kilogram.”

The source said the man also recruited drug mules from across the country to courier drugs from Brazil to South Africa.

“He is linked to an international drug syndicate based in Brazil. Unemployed, vulnerable women are targeted, from mainly the Point area in Durban, to be mules,” the source said.

“The are promised exotic holidays and large sums of cash.”

It has been alleged that the man wholesaled cocaine to dealers operating in Sydenham, Chatsworth, Phoenix, Durban North, uMhlanga and Outer West areas. He had a string of runners working for him across KwaZulu-Natal, the source said.

“He lives in a rented flat in Umbilo. But all the deals are negotiated at the lodge.”

The source said the cocaine was being packaged at the lodge.

“This guy deals with high-end cocaine powder and rock cocaine”

Several cellphones and sim cards were also seized.

The man has been monitored by police for some years.

“He travels abroad extensively.

In December he went home to Nigeria and returned only last week.”

The source said undercover agents had made several buys.

“This suspect has been untouchable for so many years because he pays protection money to police. Investigations into this are at an advanced stage.”

SAPS spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane said the claims against police were being viewed in a serious light and would be investigated.

He said corrupt police officers would not be tolerated

The source said this was a multibillion-rand operation in Durban.

“The drugs are smuggled into the city through airports, across borders, airfreight and using drug mules,” the source said.

“This is a massive bust for Durban. It will be a huge disruption to the cocaine trade in the city.”

He said most of the profits gained from the sale of the drugs were channelled into off-shore accounts.

“He does not own any assets here and rents premises in which to live and conduct his business.”