File picture: Cash and drugs confiscated during a drug bust. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Durban - In the first successful prosecution of its kind in KwaZulu-Natal, a man was convicted in Durban yesterday of racketeering and 26 drug charges – on the basis that he was effectively a “criminal enterprise”.

Eleazer Uyanwune, 33, and three accomplices, he hired as drug runners, were convicted by Durban Regional Court magistrate Siphiwe Hlophe on one count of racketeering and 26 counts of dealing in cocaine, after a seven-month operation by Bellair SAPS.

National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson said yesterday that this was the first successful prosecution in the province of an individual in the context of a criminal enterprise.

The Prevention of Organised Crime Act defines an enterprise as including any individual, partnership or corporation.

The State had argued that Uyanwune constituted an “enterprise” by virtue of his drug operation having a purpose, structure, system and a sense of continuity.

It argued further that because Uyanwune conducted the business of dealing in drugs as an individual, he was in a sense a “sole proprietorship”, and that to further his aims, he enlisted the assistance of his co-accused - his brother, Paschal Uyanwune, 31, Fikile Faith Mkhize, 25 (believed to be his girlfriend), and Wendy Manunu Mgcina, 27 - to act as runners.

In a normal business sense an enterprise would have a physical address, but in this instance, State advocate Yuri Gangai argued that the “discernable location” was Uyanwune’s cellphone number.

The court heard that an undercover agent had placed 22 orders for cocaine with Uyanwune from February 2010 to September 2010, through the cellphone number the accused had provided. In each case, the drugs were delivered to the agent.

The State argued that the cellphone number proved to be the central operation point of the syndicate and cellphone records suggest that Uyanwune or Paschal contacted the other runners, who made the deliveries and accepted payment on Uyanwune’s behalf.

The accused were arrested in 2010 after Bellair police, upon receiving information about a drug syndicate, obtained authority to successfully transact with the accused.

Over the seven-month period, the agent bought about 2.5kg of cocaine, worth more than R3 million, from Uyanwune.

In mitigation of sentence, defence advocate Joe Wolmarans said the admissions the accused had made were tantamount to a guilty plea.

He also raised the plight of refugees when referring to the Uyanwune brothers, who are from Nigeria.

“These are people who are constantly harassed or referred to in derogatory terms.

In many cases these people are murdered,” Wolmarans said. “The temptation to deal in drugs has to be huge for people in their position.”

Gangai retorted that he was “annoyed” that South Africa’s hospitality was being taken advantage of by criminals.

The State and defence were in agreement that the involvement of Mkhize and Mgcina was minimal, restricted to merely handing over the drugs.

Gangai said their time in custody was sufficient punishment and suggested a wholly suspended sentence.

Sentence is expected to be handed down today. - Daily News

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