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Mystery businessman loses high-stakes money laundering case in Joburg High Court

The South Gauteng High Court orders forfeiture of $630,700 to the State after exposing a complex money laundering scheme. File Picture

The South Gauteng High Court orders forfeiture of $630,700 to the State after exposing a complex money laundering scheme. File Picture

Published Jul 27, 2023

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A high-stakes money laundering operation was exposed in a significant judgment delivered by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.

The case, watched closely by legal and financial experts, revolved around $630,700 (R11 million) seized at OR Tambo International Airport in September 2018.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) sought to forfeit the money to the State, taken from a money courier caught while travelling from Johannesburg to Hong Kong.

The saga began in September 2018 when a South African Revenue Service (Sars) Border Control Unit officer, acting on a tip-off, intercepted passenger Fayrooz Saleh, suspected of smuggling cash to Hong Kong.

Despite denying anything to declare, Saleh admitted carrying currency, leading to a search of her backpack.

Officials found $630,700, tightly wrapped with elastic bands and brown paper secured with tape.

Saleh confessed to being part of a scheme delivering the cash to an Indian national in Hong Kong, for which she received R5,000 per trip.

The money was supplied by a Gambian woman, known as Jafa. Her actions violated several clauses in the Customs and Money Laundering Act.

Saleh was subsequently charged with numerous money laundering violations.

Her frequent international travel history, the flight route, and the clandestine method of hiding the money suggested she was smuggling on behalf of a "Hawala" syndicate, an informal remittance system outside traditional banking.

During the NPA's application for the money's forfeiture to the State, a challenge was raised by Ravichandren Dhurgasamy.

Claiming to be a businessperson dealing in electronics from Guangzhou, China, he argued the confiscated money was intended for purchasing goods from a supplier, Mr Yan.

Due to a hip surgery, he enlisted a friend, Jamal, to help with the transaction.

On Wednesday, Judge AJ du Plessis found Dhurgasamy's claims riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.

He could not provide evidence of his alleged business, its name, or clarify whether the money was his or a loan for his business.

His lack of registered property and non-existent business activity on the Sars system, along with three vehicles in his name reported stolen or illegally imported, raised red flags.

Investigation into Rathilal, Dhurgasamy's alleged loan source, found no evidence of him being a registered money exchanger. His bank statements did not support Dhurgasamy's claims, and an additional R1,000,000 source remained unknown.

Given these findings, the court declared the seized money as crime proceeds and ordered its forfeiture to the state.

The Sars was instructed to transfer the funds to the Criminal Assets Recovery Account.

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