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Errors Slated In R250m Hashish Trial

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A litany of "snitches, pimps and rats who would sell their soul to evade a long prison sentence" failed to convince a Germiston magistrate that Stefanos Paparas was a multimillion-rand drug syndicate boss.

Instead, magistrate Deon Snyman lambasted the State for its dubious deals with confirmed drug dealers on whom it based much of its case.

Paparas, his father Dimitrio and driver Stanley Poonin were accused of smuggling 700kg of hashish and 1 140kg of cannabis valued at R250 million destined for Europe and the US.

But over the past five years Paparas's camp have maintained that the prosecution against him was all a ploy by the State to force him to give evidence against convicted former police chief Jackie Selebi. Paparas was not called as a witness in the Selebi trial.

Delivering his judgment, Snyman said he "did not know" whether Stefanos Paparas was a prominent syndicate boss, but knew the other two accused were not.

"Those I know (are) (Glenn) Agliotti, (Robert) Lottman, (Christiaan) Alblas, (Pedro) Marques - I can say that. They would be called snitches, pimps, rats who would sell their soul to evade a long prison term," said Snyman, who rejected their evidence.

A teary-eyed Stefanos hugged his sister Eleni as Snyman announced their acquittal, while Poonin exclaimed "sanctified" as he flashed a victory sign to his supporters in the packed courtroom.

"All of this to get to Selebi," said Stefanos, who insisted that the authorities should go after the "real drug kingpin".

"The yellow canary. There's only one canary in this case - Agliotti," he said.

The case has dragged on for five years, during which Snyman had a heart attack, Dimitrio Paparas had a triple bypass and, according to the magistrate, everyone had aged 10 years.

"If it weren't for the ridiculously lenient sentences given to drug dealers, I may have found greater corroboration of more reliable witnesses," said Snyman.

While Snyman lay into the credibility of the witnesses, ultimately it was the State's failure to prove the "chain of evidence" that would be the downfall of more than six years of investigation.

Scorpions investigators failed to properly record their seizure of the drugs, and initially were unable to photograph the capture because their camera had failed. "Imagine," the magistrate remarked sarcastically.

The biggest failure, Snyman said, came when former national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli instructed that the drugs should not be registered as the investigation was continuing.

"It's important that exhibits be carefully marked and stored, as the fate of a trial can depend on it. It doesn't matter if you're a Scorpion or a hawk or a lion or whatever you may be called," said Snyman.

First in Snyman's dodgy witness sights was Robert "Bob the American" Lottman, known at times by aliases Lesley Alan Curtis or Christopher John Howells, a self-confessed drug dealer for more than three decades.

Acting as a link between drug suppliers in Pakistan and receivers in Europe, Lottman served an effective 18 months in jail for his role and for turning State witness in the Paparas matter. Lottman was apparently upset that he had to spend that long in jail.

"I could keep you busy for two days with problems of Lottman's evidence... He has misled one court," Snyman said, referring to a separate fraud case in the Boksburg Magistrate's Court.

Other gang members, Alblas and Marques, both served less than a year in prison.

Agliotti was sentenced to 10 years, wholly suspended, and made to pay a R500 000 fine.

"The sentence imposed on Mr Agliotti is the most shocking. It gives credence to the idea that in South Africa you really can get away with dealing in drugs or fraud as long as you have enough money to pay," Snyman said.

A fifth accomplice who turned State witness, Anthony Dormehl, was described by Snyman as "the luckiest drug dealer alive today". But the magistrate did not hand him immunity from prosecution - so his luck might change.


NewsHawk: MedicalNeed: 420 MAGAZINE
Author: Beauregard Tromp
Source: iol.co.za
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Website: Errors slated in R250m hashish trial - Crime & Courts - IOL
 
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