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Sept. 5, 2021

OWN CORRESPONDENT

13 min read

Can South Africa close net on lethal narcotics trade?

Can South Africa close net on lethal narcotics trade?

Mandrax mastermind Vijaygiri “Vicky” Goswami

Story highlights

  • Goswami organised masses of chemicals used to make Mandrax end up in South Africa
  • He implicated several individuals from around the world in his testimony

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TWO years ago, Mandrax mastermind Vijaygiri “Vicky” Goswami sang about South Africa’s drug trade in a US court, his words linking this country to a thick, sprawling web of international crime.

Goswami is no stranger to South Africa. He was based here in the early 1990s and once reportedly said he knew ANC leaders from his time in Zambia, where the party had a headquarters during apartheid, and that he had given money to the ANC and “contributed to the struggle”.

Sources in policing circles have long suspected that Goswami’s high-level connections in South Africa gave him free passage to smuggle Mandrax here.

Fast-forward to 2019 and Goswami was, based on his testimony in the US, involved in nefarious operations in countries that included India (where he is originally from), the UK, China, Dubai and Hong Kong.

He detailed how he – together with two brothers from Kenya – had organised that masses of the chemicals used to make Mandrax ended up in South Africa.

Goswami implicated several individuals from around the world in his testimony.

But now, seven years after this case started developing, it is still not clear who exactly faces prosecution and whether anyone from South Africa is on the radar of American or local authorities.

This is worrying because Goswami and Co would have undoubtedly been working with runners and dealers in South Africa to ensure their operations ran smoothly.

A South African Police Service spokesperson said cross-border drug trafficking was investigated by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), better known as the Hawks.

Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Katlego Mogale told DM168 that the Hawks were aware of the Goswami case and the people accused in it. “However, the DPCI has not yet been approached by the United States on any formal requests,” she said.

United States

Initially, four suspects were named in the US-driven case – Goswami, along with the two Kenyan brothers Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla, known members of the crime grouping the Akasha Organisation, as well as Gulam Hussein from Pakistan, who the US suspected of pushing drugs through the Middle East and Africa.

Of those four, only the Akashas have been sentenced in the US, with Baktash Akasha unsuccessful in his attempt to appeal his sentence up until the end of June this year.

It is not clear what has happened to Goswami and Hussein, who have both possibly turned witnesses for the state.

The US’s Drug Enforcement Administration, in response to DM168 questions about the status of the case against Goswami and Hussein as well as about Goswami’s where-abouts, said: “We are unable to comment until the case is fully adjudicated.”

It did not respond to a query about when the case would potentially wrap up.

Meanwhile, a fifth alleged co-conspirator was identified in the UK – Muhammad Asif Hafiz, who is originally from Pakistan, and who the US wants to extradite to stand trial.

If the US is to be believed, this group of men was dominant in the global drug trade and, based on Goswami’s words, South Africa was one of their main target markets, if not their most prominent one.

A transcript of Goswami’s testimony from US court proceedings held on 25 July 2019, shows that the words “South Africa” were recorded 79 times.

One of Goswami’s most chilling comments about South Africa refers to a murder: “We wanted to have him killed so we can put an impression in [the] South African drug market [that] we are not here to play.”

Despite Goswami’s high-level claims, South African authorities have not of their own accord issued any public statements about him or possible investigations into his allegations.

Through analysing Goswami’s public testimony, DM168 has established that he managed to maintain a strong grip on South Africa’s drug trade regardless of where he was in the world.

Dubai

Goswami was based in Zambia and subsequently South Africa in the early 1990s.

His name was linked to several local figures, including soccer boss Irvin Khoza. He even recalled being photographed with Nelson Mandela.

In the mid-1990s, he ended up in Dubai where he was jailed for 15 and a half years for manufacturing Mandrax in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Goswami testified in the US that, while imprisoned in Dubai, “I ran the Mandrax trade” in South Africa.

“I was committing crime by doing money laundering in Europe, here, United States of America, Canada and South Africa,” he said.

It appears that, despite leaving South Africa and being jailed in Dubai, he never stopped committing crime or having control over this country’s drug trade.

After Goswami was released from jail in the UAE in 2012, he made his way to Kenya. This is where he and the two Akasha brothers, Baktash and Ibrahim, started working together.

Kenya

While in Kenya, Goswami was linked to several crimes in South Africa, some of which he denied and others that he confirmed, according to his US testimony and cross-examination.

These include:

  • The assassination of someone identified only as Muktar in Cape Town in 2016. Goswami denied involvement in this, saying: “Muktar was my brother, like my brother. And he was one of my main guys. How could I kill him? And whatever the money I was getting from South Africa came from him only.”
  • Goswami acknowledged sending a person to South Africa to have someone named Taka murdered in 2016.
  • The assassination in South Africa in 2014 of a drug trafficker – identified in court proceedings only as Pinky, who was shot 32 times. Goswami testified that an acquaintance was promised half a tonne of abba (chemicals used to make Mandrax) in exchange for his murder to be carried out. He also testified he contacted a man named Ajay Goswami to see to it that Pinky was murdered in South Africa.
  • In 2019 AmaBhungane reported that Ajay Goswami, a businessperson based in Johannesburg, confirmed Goswami had been in contact with him about Pinky’s murder, but he had not taken him seriously.
  • In court in the US Goswami explained the reason behind the assassination: “Because, first of all, Pinky was threatening us. Second, we wanted to have him killed so we can put an impression in [the] South African drug market [that] we are not here to play.”
  • Threatening a person in South Africa – identified in court proceedings as Jubeki – about drug trafficking.

Goswami testified that he and Baktash had people selling Mandrax for them in South Africa.

Together with the Akasha brothers, he was arrested in Kenya towards the end of 2014 and extradited from there to the US in January 2017.

So too was Gulam Hussein.

“Following the arrests and during pending extradition proceedings, the defendants continued to distribute [large] quantities of narcotics,” a Drug Enforcement Administration statement said in 2019.

“They used some of the drug proceeds to bribe Kenyan officials – including judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers – in an effort to avoid extradition to face the charges against them in the US.”

Noordin Haji, Kenya’s director of public prosecutions, reportedly said it was reliant on the US to take action against others in that country implicated in the Goswami-Akasha matter.

Haji’s stance on South Africa, the other main country involved in the Goswami-Akasha saga, is that it is corrupt. His office recently tweeted: “DPP Noordin Haji has said corruption is a threat to national security and has urged Kenyans to learn from what is happening in South Africa and choose leaders of integrity during 2022 general elections.”

India

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Goswami and those allegedly linked to him, including the Akashas, in early 2014 started preparing to import tonnes of methaqualone precursor chemicals into Africa “to fuel the illicit pills’ production in South Africa”.

They allegedly used income from this business “to pursue other illegal ventures, including efforts to import ephedrine that was produced illegally by Avon Lifesciences in India so that the Akasha Organisation and others could manufacture methamphetamine in Africa”.

Enter Muhammad Asif Hafeez, originally from Pakistan and said to be one of the top drug traffickers in the world.

The US alleged that Goswami and Co partnered with Hafeez “to establish a methamphetamine production facility in Mozambique”.

Their alleged plans fell through in 2016 when the Avon Lifesciences factory in Solapur, India, was raided and 18 tonnes of ephedrine seized. The defendants and Hafeez apparently planned to use the ephedrine to manufacture methamphetamine in Mozambique.

In his July 2019 testimony in the US, Goswami alleged that contacts at the Avon Lifesciences factory had agreed to a price of “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for 3.5 tonnes of ephedrine that “we were to bring it into South Africa”.

Again, South Africa was named as the target market.

Among those identified as suspects in the India offshoot of Goswami’s operations is Mamta Kulkarni, a former Bollywood actor reported to be his wife.

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Kulkarni has apparently not gone to any of the court hearings in India and her attempts to get authorities there to reverse the freezing of some of her bank accounts reportedly failed in court in early August.

United Kingdom

Hafeez was arrested in London in August 2017 and is fighting extradition to the US. His legal representative was not able to provide comment to DM168 ahead of publication.

Recent reports say that Hafeez may have been working with international authorities, including the British government in Dubai.

Hafeez may also possibly be linked to South Africa.

Vrye Weekblad reported in 2019 that the Guptas were allegedly involved in money laundering on behalf of Hafeez. If this proves true, it means the Guptas, whose ties to jailed former president Jacob Zuma are under scrutiny, were indirectly linked to Goswami.

The US announced in late 2019 that it was imposing sanctions on members of the Gupta family and their Johannesburg-born associate Salim Essa.

“The Guptas and Essa have used their influence with prominent politicians and parties to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains. We will continue to exclude from the US financial system those who profit from corruption,” said Sigal Mandelker, the US’s Treasury deputy secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The UK also imposed sanctions on the Guptas and Essa this year, saying their “corruption caused serious damage to South Africa”.

Both the US and the UK, where suspects in the Goswami case happen to be detained, have acted against the Guptas and Essa. It is yet to be seen whether any action will be taken in South Africa against those found to have been involved with Goswami. DM168

All four corners: Mandrax mastermind ‘Vicky’ Goswami’s worldwide influence

Zambia – This is where Goswami said he met several ANC leaders during the apartheid era. He has also said he gave the ANC money.

South Africa – Goswami was based in the country in the 1990s. He and a group of men from Kenya and Pakistan allegedly tried to maintain a stranglehold over South Africa’s drug trade until a few years ago. In court testimony in 2019 it emerged that three assassinations here may be linked to Goswami.

Dubai – Goswami was jailed in Dubai for nearly 16 years, ending in 2012. He said that he was involved in crimes – including laundering money via South Africa and running its Mandrax trade – while behind bars.

Kenya – Goswami and Kenyan brothers Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla started working together in 2014. Part of their alleged operations involved pushing Mandrax into South Africa. They were arrested in Kenya.

India – An Indian factory was raided in 2016 and tonnes of ephedrine confiscated. Goswami, who is originally from India, testified that this ephedrine was destined for South Africa. He is a suspect in this case, as is former Bollywood actress Mamta Kulkarni, who is said to be his wife.

United States – Goswami and three others were extradited to the US from their base in Kenya in 2017 for trafficking substances, including heroin and methamphetamine. While in custody in 2019, Goswami testified about extensive drug dealing and crimes linked to South Africa.

United Kingdom – Muhammad Asif Hafeez, originally from Pakistan, was arrested in the UK in 2017. The US is trying to have him extradited as it is suspected Hafeez is a dominant global drug dealer who worked with Goswami and Co. Recent reports suggest Hafeez may have been an informant passing on information to the British government in Dubai. It has previously been reported that Hafeez may be linked to the Gupta family, members of which have become synonymous with State Capture allegations in South Africa. DM168

 

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