Sa Intelligence Minister’s Wife And The Drug Mule Bust by Sweetthing(f): 3:25pm On Mar 15, 2009
Exclusive: Intelligence boss’s spouse linked to international cocaine ring. The wife of South Africa’s newly appointed intelligence boss is under investigation for international drug trafficking.
Sheryl Cwele, married to minister of intelligence Siyabonga Cwele, has been directly linked to a KwaZulu-Natal mother arrested in Brazil with an estimated R3-million worth of raw cocaine while en route back to SA last year.
Siyabonga Cwele was chairman of parliament’s intelligence committee at the time.
Sheryl Cwele, a high-ranking municipal official on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, is linked to the unemployed Margate woman, Tessa Beetge, through scores of e-mails, SMSes and prison letters.
Beetge left South Africa on May 21 last year. She travelled to Colombia and Peru before being arrested in Brazil on June 13. She was in transit to Johannesburg when a 9kg block of cocaine was found in her suitcase at São Paulo airport.
The 31-year-old has been in Brazil’s Penitenciaria Feminina Da Capital prison since then. She has yet to be charged.
Beetge’s family say she was offered an overseas job by Cwele, a former neighbour who she’d known for many years. Beetge’s parents met Cwele in her office at the municipality before the trip, when she provided them with details of the job offer.
But Cwele said yesterday that a Johannesburg friend of Beetge’s had organised the trip, and that Beetge had asked Cwele to pretend to her parents that she had arranged it.
She claimed that Beetge had asked her to “make up” the text messages between the two so she could show them to her mother.
“I’m innocent… I wish I’d never helped her, but I trusted her and I felt sorry for her,” said Cwele. “I don’t know whether I’m a stupid Christian or not.”
She added: “If there is an official investigation, I will co-operate.”
A South African crime intelligence official said the Beetge case involved organised crime and “much bigger players”. He said the police investigation would be completed by the end of April, but refused to divulge details.
SA Police Service spokesman Director Sally de Beer said police were “aware of the detention of Tessa Beetge but because of our policy of not giving out information on ongoing investigations, I am unable to give out any details at this point”.
It has been established that Cwele is under investigation.
In 30 detailed text messages between Beetge and Cwele, director of community services for the Hibiscus Coast Municipality in Uvongo, between May 2 and 29 2008, Cwele:
> Talks to Beetge about a “business venture”;
> Makes flight, collection and visa arrangements for her;
> Orders her to pack warmly and offers her own “good luck” coat for the trip;
> Puts her in touch with her brother “Frank” and wife “Nomsa” in Johannesburg; and
> Tells her she will receive R25,000.
Beetge told her family in a letter from prison that Frank turned out to be a man with a foreign accent.
The Sunday Times has established that the two women remained in touch after Beetge left South Africa.
On May 13, Cwele SMSed Beetge to say she had “arranged 4 u 2 leave in the morning so u can pack nicely… ” She wrote later : “Pack warm clothes, I’ll borrow you my warm Gudluck coat!”
The coat was brought home to SA along with Beetge’s suitcase after her mother visited her in prison last September.
On May 26, five days after Beetge left Johannesburg, Cwele sent her an SMS saying: “Missing u lots my friend when are you coming back? Hope ure enjoying urself. Plz prepare ur cv when u get back ! SHERYL.”
Three days later, Tessa replied: “Sheryl, what are you up to? I’m sitting in Peru at the moment and really just want to go home! Have you spoken to Frank? Please keep in touch with my mom, Tess.”
A week before her arrest, Beetge e-mailed Cwele from Peru to ensure that, should anyone phone them, “we both have facts that are the same”.
In another e-mail to Cwele from Peru, Beetge complains about the delay in returning home: “I’m getting a little upset about it because mom is asking questions… I can’t keep telling her I’m coming home and then I don’t… Next time we go together, what you think?” Beetge wrote.
Three days later, on June 8, Cwele sent an e-mail from her official municipal e-mail address to Beetge’s Hotmail address, saying: “Frank told me about the delay which is for your own good really… avoid people who may end up asking a lot of questions… hang in there.”
Beetge was arrested five days later.
Beetge’s distraught parents said this week that their daughter was a scapegoat.
“I believe that she’s innocent because I don’t believe for one minute that she could do it on her own,” said her mother, Marie Swanepoel.
After Beetge called her mother to say she had been arrested, Swanepoel reported the case to police in Fish Hoek in the Western Cape, fearing that officers on the South Coast may be too closely linked to Cwele. She later reported it to a local policeman known to the family, who referred it to crime intelligence in Pretoria.
Swanepoel, who had accompanied their daughter to Cwele’s office in Uvongo to discuss the trip, claimed Cwele had said Beetge would be sent to London to do administrative work and would return home on June 5.
After Beetge’s arrest, Swanepoel said, Cwele denied knowing “Frank” in Johannesburg or that Beetge had been in Colombia and Peru.
In an e-mail addressed to Beetge’s aunt, Margie Olsen, on June 27, Elzanne Groenewald of the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Beetge’s arrest for alleged drug trafficking.
On Friday the department said it was “rendering consular assistance” to Beetge.
Minister Siyabonga Cwele said yesterday that he knew Beetge as a former neighbour but knew nothing of her allegations against his wife.
In letters to her parents, Beetge consistently implicates Cwele in the doomed trip.
“I’m doing everything to help the police and I’m co-operating but it feels like nothing is done about it… I have told them about Frank and Sheryl and that she is married to ‘Mr Cwele’ of parliament and of Frank’s friend Charles of the guest lodge in Jhb, One John 5 Four… ” Beetge wrote on July14 last year.
She said she’d given descriptions of the two men’s cars and one registration number to SA consular officials in Brazil.
On August 19 she asked her mother to locate the son of an IFP MP, Sybil Seaton. “His mom is in parliament in CT with Sheryl’s husband Mr Cwele, maybe she can find out and help my case?”
On 15 September : “I don’t know if the people in SA are finding anything to get Frank and Sheryl behind bars because living here is pure hell… I wish I could catch Frank and Sheryl myself but to me it’s like SA police don’t really want to get the bad guys…
On 16 October 2008: “I’m only guilty of trusting Sheryl… what came out of her mouth was all but lies… God knows her and what she has done and God will judge her sooner than she thinks!… God is not asleep.”