Cwele guilty of drug dealing
Sheryl Cwele, the wife of state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, sat stony faced in the dock in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Thursday afternoon as Judge Piet Koen convicted her of dealing in cocaine.
Her co-accused, Frank Nabolisa, was convicted on the same charge. In his judgment, Koen found Cwele’s defence—that she was merely helping Nabolisa to recruit “white women to front his company in Johannesburg”—implausible.
The duo was also accused of incitement to dealing in dangerous dependence-creating drugs. This related to the alleged recruitment of state witness Charmaine Moss and Tessa Beetge, who is serving an almost eight-year prison sentence in Brazil after being nabbed at Sao Paolo airport with 10kg of cocaine in her luggage. Koen dismissed this charge.
On the first, Koen said that there was “irresistible inference” from the behaviour and conversations between Cwele and Nabolisa, especially about the time when Beetge and Moss were set to make overseas trafficking trips—that pointed to Cwele having a more intimate knowledge of Nabolisa’s actual business dealings.
Koen said that it was “highly improbable” that Cwele would have recruited women with minimal education (in Beetge’s case, grade 10) for short-term work of about two weeks with high remuneration (about R25 000 a time)—to “front companies” and act as “directors”, as Cwele had insisted—without knowing something illegal was happening.
He also questioned why Cwele and Nabolisa would “recruit [Moss] just to deliver a parcel [from Turkey] when courier services operated worldwide at competitive rates”.
After judgment was handed down Beetge’s mother, Marie Swanepoel, who has waged a long, hard battle for the case to get to court, said: “I’m still shaking from the judgment. I’m very, very glad, though. I’m calling Tessa tomorrow to tell her the good news.” The outcome of the trial hung heavily on the state’s submission of intercepted text messages and phone calls between Nabolisa and Beetge, and Nabolisa and Cwele. This, state prosecutor Ian Cooke contended, completed the picture of the collusion among Cwele, Nabolisa and Beetge in alleged preparation for and during the latter’s 2008 drug run to South America.
The defence counsel for both accused had separately attacked the veracity of the transcripts during the trial, suggesting that the procedures and functionality of the equipment used to record and transcribe the communications could not be authenticated.
The state tried to firm up its case by having it reopened so that expert witnesses could testify on these issues. Its urgent application was dismissed by Koen, who concurred with the defence’s objection that it was “obstinate”. Koen, in a ruling critical of the state’s ineptitude, stated: “There is no indication that the two witnesses [which the prosecution sought to introduce] were not available at the time when the evidence was being advanced in court. There is no satisfactory explanation advanced as to why they were not called at the time.” Bail was extended until sentencing is finalised.