15 August 2018

Namibia: Bail Hearing Over Half-Tonne Cocaine Bust Starts

"WHEN I saw the cocaine powder, I got dizzy, and everything just went blurry before me. My legs gave in. I knew this was trouble. I just wanted to vomit."

This is what the 36-year-old Grant Noble yesterday told Walvis Bay magistrate Ilge Rheent about his reaction when he realised a shipping container that was supposed to hold N$250 000 worth of A4 print paper that he ordered from Brazil had 412 kilogrammes of cocaine with a street value of N$206 million inside.

Noble testified in the harbour town's court, where a bail hearing for him and his silent business partner, South African Dinath Azhar (62), started yesterday.

The two men are facing a charge of dealing in or being in possession of the cocaine, which now holds the record for the most expensive drug bust in Namibian history. They were arrested on 16 June after the Erongo police and customs officials discovered the cocaine in a container shipped from Brazil via Cape Town to Walvis Bay, with its end destination listed as Narraville at Walvis Bay.

Noble and Azhar have been kept in custody since their arrest.

The bail hearing kicked off with members of the public protesting outside the court against the granting of bail, stating that drug dealers must be locked up because they destroy society.

State prosecutors Theresia Hafeni and Salomon Kanyemba opposed bail.

"You know that if you are guilty, there will be no fine for you, but you will go to prison for a long time," Kanyemba told Noble, who was first to be called to testify in support of his and Azhar's application to be released from custody.

Noble told the court he and his partner, through their closed corporation Ziggy Trading, had placed an order for A4 printing paper from Brazil, intending to sell it in Namibia at a cheaper price than paper sold in local outlets.

Noble claimed he had no money, and that Azhar paid for the printing paper.

He explained that Azhar was a silent partner because he [Azhar] "owed money to a lot of people", and was also blacklisted by the credit bureau, and therefore could not open a business. Being a silent partner, however, allowed him to transact through the business.

He further explained that when the container arrived he was informed by customs that it would be held back for inspection.

A few days later, he and Azhar were summoned to Namport's police station where the container was being unpacked and sniffer dogs were used to check the contents. Some of the contents was in fact paper, but not all.

It was only when the dogs started biting boxes of what was supposed to contain paper, and the police opened the boxes, revealing 'blocks', which he recognised from the TV series 'Narcos' about real-life drug kingpins, that he realised something was wrong, Noble claimed.

The final straw that broke his nerves was when a police officer sliced one of the packages with a knife, revealing the cocaine powder. That was when he collapsed from shock, Nobel said.

Not only was there cocaine in the container, but also an envelope containing a similar seal, with the same seal number, as the seal used on the container door. The state argued that Noble and Azhar knew what was inside the container, that they intended to have the container delivered at their premises, remove the drugs, and reseal the container with the packaged seal before it was inspected by customs officials.

Noble denied all of this.

"Are you trying to tell the court that someone, who you did legal business with, decided to add N$206 million worth of cocaine to your order, for what reason?" asked Kanyemba.

"I'm innocent. I did not know about the drugs," he replied, also adding that people who deal in drugs should be "put away in jail".

Noble said he was able to pay bail of N$50 000, which would be raised by Walvis Bay's Muslim community in his support.

Defence lawyer Jan Wessels is representing Noble, while Sisa Namandje is representing Azhar. Noble finished his testimony yesterday. Azhar is expected to testify when the bail hearing continues today.

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