A workman slides a dustmop over the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in this file picture. File photo: J. Scott Applewhite.

Cape Town - An infamous South African, linked to some of the most shady scandals of this century, has emerged at the centre of a US transcontinental sting operation that netted an alleged drug cartel assassin.

Paul Calder le Roux shopped former American Special Forces-trained sniper Joseph Hunter, who was arrested in Thailand in an operation spearheaded by agents from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Hunter, known as Rambo, was nabbed after he was secretly taped agreeing on behalf of a group of mercenaries to assassinate a DEA informer in return for $800 000 (R9.3 million).

News of the DEA operation only surfaced last weekend in a report by the New York Times, although Hunter was arrested and taken to the US last year.

He is facing charges in connection with running a hit squad.

Dramatic as the Hunter arrest may have been, it appears to be little more than the tip of an iceberg of spy world intrigue.

According to the New York Times and DEA sources, Hunter was sold out by his former employer, Le Roux (by this time Le Roux had dropped the middle name), as part of a top secret deal with the US authorities.

Le Roux, 42, is registered as both an Australian and South African citizen, owns property in Krugersdorp, and is a director of a South African-registered company.

He came to the attention of international intelligence agencies in 2007 when he was named in a UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) report as sponsoring a local breakaway militia, some 200 strong, and fitting them out with illegally sourced military materiel.

In the territory controlled by his militia, Le Roux apparently constructed hi-tech greenhouses in which he allegedly planned to grow industrial quantities of opium poppy, which would be utilised to manufacture heroin for the international market.

He discreetly disappeared on the publication of the SEMG report, coming to light again operating companies in Manila in the Philippines and allegedly involved in illegal arms and the international trade in narcotics, according to US authorities.

He may also have been connected to two hits in the Philippines about which Hunter boasted in the taped negotiations around the planned hit on the DEA agent which led to his arrest.

Le Roux was secretly taken into custody by the DEA after being arrested in Liberia in 2012 in a sting in connection with a prescription painkiller scam that he allegedly masterminded.

He was then apparently turned, and is estimated to have provided information leading to the arrests of at least 11 people.

“Le Roux is a bad guy, a very bad guy,” a DEA agent is quoted in the New York Times as saying, speaking on condition of anonymity because, he said, Le Roux’s co-operation had been a secret.

“He’s Viktor Bout (the Russian illegal arms trader dubbed the Merchant of Death and currently in prison in the US) on steroids.”

Le Roux previously made news when it became known he had transferred about $12m (R139m) into the account of Ari Ben-Manashe, a former Israeli gun-runner who was linked to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe.

This was allegedly intended for Manashe’s company to lobby support in the US for a land reform plan that would have seen Le Roux securing 99-year leaseholds on Zimbabwean farms – to huge personal profit.

But it emerged that Manashe had testified in 2002 that Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was involved in a plot to assassinate Mugabe. This claimed assassination was later discredited.

According to intelligence reports in the possession of Independent Newspapers, Le Roux was implicated in plans hatched in 2010/11 in Zimbabwe to set up a protection unit for then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi – aimed at accessing billions in gold bars held in secret Libyan stashes. - Weekend Argus