Boats seized in Knysna R500m coke bust

The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) has obtained a Western Cape High Court order allowing it to attach a large ski boat and rubber duck, seized in connection with a R500 million cocaine bust in Knysna late last year, one of the biggest in the Western Cape. 

In an affidavit before the court, AFU investigator Ricardo Rhoda said the boat had attracted suspicion because it was designed for the pursuit of game fish and was too big for the shallow waters of the lagoon in Knysna. 

Police had received reports that its owners were staying in a flat at Knysna Quays and that the doors and windows were closed and covered. 

Police established that the boat was registered in the name of a Port Elizabeth man, and that he had been involved in abalone smuggling, Rhoda said. 

On December 10 police went to the Knysna flat to do a search, but found nothing. 

The occupants of the flat were asked to accompany police to the boat. 

The Port Elizabeth man was not present. 

Police found several bags of cocaine, which weighed more than 1 700kg, on the boat. 

All the occupants of the flat told police that they had no knowledge of the drugs, Rhoda said. 

They were arrested and warned of their rights. 

Rhoda added that two of the suspects chose to give their versions to the police. 

One of the two said he was the owner of a boat repair company that had regularly serviced the boat over four to five years. 

The Port Elizabeth man, the second occupant of the flat who agreed to talk to the police and a third man, known only by a nickname, were employees. 

They said they had done repair work on the boat and had finished on December 9. 

They slept there that evening with the intention of returning to Cape Town in the morning. 

However, the police awoke them in the flat the next day. 

In a separate affidavit, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Jacobus Niehaus said police had established that the Port Elizabeth man bought the boat for R700 000 in cash last September and the rubber duck for R96 000 two months later. 

According to Niehaus, the funds were provided by Chinese people, who were allegedly part of a drug cartel in South Africa. 

He said the vessels were bought to transport drugs and were registered in the Port Elizabeth man’s name to conceal their true ownership. He said the boat was being held at Thesen Island under the control of Knysna police and the rubber duck was at the Vehicle Investigation storage yard in Stellenbosch. 

Attorneys for one of the men who agreed to give police his version have sent a letter to the AFU in which they say he has an interest in the matter because he has not been paid for work he did on the boat, which could be sold if forfeited to the State. 

However, Niehaus said prosecutors had evidence showing that the man was involved in the alleged drug dealing. 

He submitted there were reasonable grounds to conclude that the boat and rubber duck were involved in drug dealing. 

The court granted the AFU a final preservation order. 

fatima.schroeder@inl.co.za – Cape Argus

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