In one of the biggest drug busts ever in South Africa, the Scorpions have intercepted a key ingredient, worth more than R800-million, used in producing Mandrax.On Friday afternoon, investigators from the Scorpions' KwaZulu Natal outfit transported the dangerous chemical - o-toluidine - to a Midrand chemical company to be destroyed in a safe environment. The chemical was confiscated after entering South Africa via Durban harbour. Chemical experts and the police forensic laboratory confirmed that the 5 tons of o-toluidine was seized in the bust. Scorpions KwaZulu Natal chief investigator Clifford Marion confirmed that the drugs, believed to be destined primarily for the Cape Flats, were planned for countrywide distribution, and that up to 34-million Mandrax tablets could have been produced from the amount of o-toluidine confiscated.
"The modus operandi of the drug syndicates has changed in recent times and they're not bringing in completed drugs anymore," said Marion.Syndicates were now bringing chemicals into the country marked as dye, with the other key ingredients arriving several months later, he said.The chemicals were then put together at clandestine laboratories dotted around the country.Drug labs have been found at smallholdings, farms, garages and flats.The bust is second only to a R1-billion drugs haul the Scorpions netted in 2003 at the Durban port. The Mandrax powder seized in that bust was hidden in drums marked "paint" and was destined for Pemba in Mozambique.At the time, investigators indicated that Chinese syndicates were behind the Mandrax trade in South Africa.But Marion was cautious not to reveal too many details of the latest bust as the Scorpions are continuing their investigation into the syndicate, which he said was operating throughout the country. "We've been investigating this syndicate for a while now, which resulted in this bust. The most important thing for us is that this stuff will not hit the streets," he said.Local authorities have been working in consultation with their overseas colleagues to stem the flow of drugs, which are increasingly being routed via South Africa.
Beauregard Tromp-May 19 2007 at 01:18PM - This article was originally published on page 2 of Saturday Star on May 19, 2007.