THE wife of South Africa’s intelligence minister has been convicted of drug trafficking for using young women as mules to smuggle cocaine into the country.
Sheryl Cwele, who is married to state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, was convicted along with Nigerian Frank Nabolisa in the High Court in the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg. Both had pleaded not guilty.
Judge Piet Koen said yesterday the two had clearly worked together to recruit two women as drug mules, according to the Sapa news agency.
Judge Koen questioned Cwele’s defence that she did not know the women would be transporting drugs.
“On the probabilities, why recruit a person and pay them just to fetch a parcel when there are courier services available?” he said.
“The irresistible inference is that (Cwele) knew what (the women) would be required to do for two weeks at the remuneration she offered to them.”
Cwele was arrested in January 2010 and has been out on bail. Sentencing was set for later today, when the pair face minimum jail terms of 15 years.
Allegations of Cwele’s drug trafficking surfaced in 2009 after the arrest of Tessa Beetge, a South African woman caught in Brazil with 10 kilos of cocaine worth almost $300,000.
Beetge’s parents told a South African newspaper that Cwele, a former neighbour, had arranged their daughter’s trip to Brazil after offering her a job overseas.
Beetge is currently serving an eight-year jail sentence in Sao Paulo.
The other woman, Charmaine Moss, was hired to collect an unspecified parcel in Turkey. She suspected foul play, declined the offer, and turned state witness.
Cwele’s arrest has led to opposition calls for her husband’s resignation. He was not at court for the verdict, and his office said no statement would be issued on the case.
The conviction is the latest stain on South Africa’s security services, after the police’s crime intelligence chief was arrested in March over a deadly love triangle a decade earlier.
Police are also embroiled in a series of scandals over brutality against protesters and corruption in contracts.