The Vredenburg Magistrates Court sentenced three Bulgarian men to collective 60 years imprisonment and their assets worth R46.5m were forfeited to the state.
This successful arrest, conviction, sentencing and asset forfeiture follows one of the biggest drug busts in South Africa where 973 bricks of cocaine with an estimated street value of R580 million were found hidden in the hull of a vessel anchored at Saldanha Bay harbour.
Mario Radoslavov Vasev, Asen Georgiev and Atanas Mihaylov Bikov were found guilty of drug dealing and entering South Africa illegally using fake documents.
Vasev was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for dealing in drugs. The court ordered that 13 years be suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for dealing in drugs. He was sentenced to a year imprisonment for illegally entering South Africa. This sentence will run concurrently with the sentence for drug dealing.
Ivanov was sentenced to 25 years direct imprisonment for drug dealing. Twelve years were suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for dealing in drugs. He was sentenced to a year imprisonment which will run concurrently with the sentence handed down for drug dealing.
Bikov was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment wholly suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for dealing in drugs.
He was sentenced to a year imprisonment for illegally entering South Africa wholly suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted for contravention of the Immigration Act 13 of 2002, committed during the period of suspension. In addition, he paid R2,5 million to the Criminal Asset Recovery Account (CARA) to be used in the fight against crime.
Last year the police received information about cocaine entering the country via Cape Town harbours. The vessel which had a stash of cocaine, the Windward, was identified and traced to where it was anchored at the Table Bay Harbour.
It then sailed to Saldanha Bay harbour on January 2021 where it remained while undergoing maintenance. On 25 February 2021, it left the port and underwent a sailing test. It returned the next day. It received a cargo transfer at sea on the evening of 26 February 2021. The vessel returned to the Saldanha Bay harbour in the afternoon of 1 March 2021 and police assisted by members of the Special Task Force, boarded the vessel.
They arrested four Bulgarian men and six Myanmar men. The state withdrew charges against one Bulgarian man and against the six Myanmar men who were a crew of the vessel.
During the search of the Bulgarian’s residence, $1 125 630 and € 4 300 were found and seized. The Bulgarians had two luxury SUVs which they bought while in the country. All the vehicles, the Windward and two other vessels were seized and forfeited to the state following a successful order applied for by the Asset Forfeiture Unit.
State prosecutor, Advocate Aradhana Heeramun, welcomed the sentence.
“This is the second largest cocaine seizure in South Africa. It is a clear example of an international organised crime syndicate in operation. The illegal trade in narcotics is a prevalent and serious offence. It has ties to gangsterism and other crime and therefore has a huge negative effect on social economic circumstances of communities as a whole. This in turn has an effect on the economy of the Republic of South Africa. Narcotics is not only endangering users lives, but destroys families and is a huge contributor to other crimes. There is therefore a huge outcry from national and international communities.
“The Organised Crime Component and Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, once again set the bench mark for a massive forfeiture. We are very pleased with the outcome,” she said after the conclusion of the court proceedings on Friday.”