Police discovered machines used to produce mandrax tablets and also arrested a suspect. One of the machines, above, was apparently made to look like exercise equipment.

Cape Town -

Machines used to make thousands of mandrax tablets before being confiscated by police this week can also make sweets, and this makes it easier to get hold of the contraptions.

This is according to the National Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.

Police officers attached to Operation Combat, focused on gangsterism and related crimes in the province, this week discovered three tablet-pressing machines and arrested a suspect.

Head of Operation Combat and the Mitchells Plain police cluster commander, Jeremy Vearey, had said the first machine was found in Plumstead, the second in Lansdowne and the third in Parow.

The first machine could produce 6 000 tablets an hour, the second 16 000 tablets and the third was a smaller, portable device.

On Thursday, police spokesman Frederick van Wyk said the origin of the machines formed part of a broader investigation.

Vivian Frittelli, chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association, said the machines had to be imported as the contraptions were manufactured overseas.

In order to import the machines, import licences were needed. Asked if one needed a permit or special permission to purchase the machines, Frittelli said: “We have no knowledge that there are any regulations, because the machines could be used to make sweets.”

Frittelli said because an import licence was needed, there would be a record of how many of the machines were in the country.

An internet search showed a number of the machines were available, at prices ranging from R3 250 for a manual tablet press to more than R1 million for a commercial model.

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Cape Times