"OPERATION INDIANA", THE STING THAT TOOK DOWN THE BIGGEST DRUG BARON IN THE HISTORY OF ESWATINI (Part III of III)
Ronny Johny Smith was not your ordinary criminal. It took the combined might of South Africa´s scorpions, America´s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the country´s Lukhozi to bring down the once-powerful businessman.
It took the South African police ten years to investigate Smith, including infiltrating his close knight underworld. Police used spies and double agents to appreciate the extent of his drug operation not just in South Africa but all over the world.
Smith had managed to bribe his way o freedom which in part explains why despite all these allegations against him he was never convicted of drug trafficking. He once pleaded guilty in Pretoria to corruption after he paid R186,000 to a state prosecutor to have drug charges withdrawn.
He paid the R300,000 fine and was released from custody. An accomplice who had turned a state witness died under mysterious circumstances before he could testify in court.
The Durban's Organised Crime Unit, which had initially investigated Smith, was ostracized after its boss, Superintendent Piet Meyer, was implicated in allegations that he had received money from Smith.
The operation that brought down Smith was code named Operation "Indiana” and was kept under wraps. Even top policemen knew nothing of it. Policemen attached to the Durban´s Organised Crime Unit, stigmatised after Meyer was suspended, were the ones involved in the local investigation, and according to Detective Inspector Amod Khalil Hoosen, their probe into Smith was sophisticated, involving the use of psychologists, informers and policemen who infiltrated his close-knit business group.
But arresting him was another matter. Police admitted that it became an "arduous" task because he kept a close reign on his business deals and protected his "family". At his Bluff home in Durban cameras were mounted on the high walls and was surrounded by bodyguards 24 hours a day.
Policemen used many methods of collecting information on him, including scouring rubbish bins and sending informers to befriend members of his family according to media reports of the time. He was finally arrested in Durban in April 1999 on drug charges and appeared in court with his co-accused Ibrahim Hussein from Durban and Vusi Hadebe of Johannesburg.
South African police asset forfeiture unit at work.
A fourth accused, Sydney Manake, died under mysterious circumstances after he agreed to give evidence against Smith. After Smith's arrest police raided his home and businesses in eSwatini, seizing luxury cars and large sums of foreign currency. Local police had seized some of Smith´s items and a local Magistrate who sanctioned a search warrant later revoked it controversially leading to a High Court application where the state managed to get the actions of the Magistrate corrected.
There were a lot of questions why the Magistrate did this. Smith was well known in the underworld and to policemen in Durban as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the United States. Over a period of ten years, the DEA conducted a discreet investigation into him.
Trevor White, the curator designated by the court to investigate Smith's financial affairs, told the Tribune newspaper in 1999 that they found R400 000 belonging to Smith kept in a Durban attorneys' trust account; a house belonging to Smith in La Mercy; and several other luxury cars. Smith was ultimately stripped of his multimillion-rand "empire" by a final order granted in the Durban high court which seized assets - said to be the proceeds of crime - worth R7-million.
He was also convicted in Pretoria of corruption and ordered to pay a R300 000 fine or spend six years in jail. "We have basically taken everything we could get our hands on in this country," said asset forfeiture unit head Willie Hofmeyr to newspapers. "But we believe he still has assets and money in Swaziland, which is very difficult for us to get hold of." The unit first raided Smith's luxury home on the Bluff, Durban, in October 1999, after investigations led the police to believe he was probably a drug supplier.
The police alleged that his Swaziland businesses are used as fronts to launder money from his trade in illegal drugs. The forfeiture order granted against Smith saw him lose his luxury Bluff home, a flat at 101 Victoria Embankment, nine vehicles and an imported camper valued at more than R700 000. Curator Trevor White, of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said that the vehicles were the most valuable items because they were all "top-of-the-range with low mileage".
They include a BMW 328i Cabriolet, a Mercedes-Benz S500, a Toyota Land Cruiser and a Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4 V8. Cash included almost R315 000 seized during a raid, R50 000 deposited in trust at Wakefields, the R186 000 bribe money, R700 000 in an attorney's trust account and about R1,3-million in 15 bank accounts. Two properties, owned by Platinum Mile Investments 14, had also been seized as had about 60 household items.
Smith´s items were later sold at a public auction and the money paid into the criminal asset recovery account used for law enforcement purposes in South Africa.