Tobacco scammer smoked out

Businessman Owen George Keyser has been sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Mitchell’s Plain Regional Court for being in possession of 40 000 packets of Kingdom cigarettes.

Mr Keyser’s sentence has been suspended for five years on condition that he pays R434 000 into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account (CARA). The investigation has been ongoing since February 12 2011.

Eric Ntabazalila, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson, said Mr Keyser has been convicted on charges of corruption after he was found in possession of illegal cigarettes.

He said Mr Keyser was also sentenced to 36 months correctional supervision which consists of house arrest, monitoring, reporting to a Correctional Services official at the Community Correction Offices in Mitchell’s Plain.

“After the completion of court procedures, he may not leave the magisterial district of his residence or place of work without permission of his correctional supervision officer and that he must not use alcohol or drugs for the duration of his sentence. And he must obtain written permission from the commissioner of Correctional Services before he changes his residential or work address,” he said.

Mr Ntabazalila said the cigarettes have been declared forfeit to the state.

“What started as a routine patrol on the N1 around Beaufort West not only exposed possession of illicit cigarettes but also exposed a corrupt police officer who was escorting the vehicle with the illegal consignment,” he said.

Mr Ntabazalila said the police officer was in full police uniform driving an unmarked Volkswagen Golf with SAPS lights.

“The police who were on patrol were not aware of any SAPS actions or consignments moving through Beaufort West or along the N1 highway. This piqued their interest,” he said.

Mr Ntabazalila said they stopped the Golf and spoke to Warrant Officer Jerome Hendricks from the Johannesburg Railway Police Unit. He informed them that he was escorting SAP 13 goods (goods to be used as exhibits during a case) to Cape Town and that the rest of his unit was around assisting him with the transport.

“SAPS found this story suspicious, but allowed him and the vehicle with illicit cigarettes to continue on their way. They phoned and asked their colleagues to follow up on his story. After a few kilometres they pulled Warrant Officer Hendricks over and ask further questions,” he said.

Mr Ntabazalila said after following up these differing versions they decided to stop and search both vehicles at Leeu Gamka.

He said when the Hyundai LDV was opened, 40 000 packets of cigarettes were found. “Further investigation determined that the cigarettes belonged to Keyser and it was apparent that Warrant Officer Hendricks was being used to ensure that the cigarettes arrived safely in Cape Town,” he said.

Mr Ntabazalila said Keyser, who has previous records, entered into a plea and sentencing agreement with the state and was sentenced. His case and that of Warrant Officer Hendricks were separated.

He said the trial against Warrant Officer Hendricks will resume tomorrow Thursday September 8 at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court.

Mr Ntabazalila said the NPA welcomes the sentence and the arrest of the police officer.