The story of a drug mule that travelled to Brazil and back.
January 30, 2014
NELSPRUIT -* Dave had dreamt of seeing Brazil, but never did he think his involvement in drug trafficking would lead him on a journey through hell.
To most travellers, the gleaming facade of the departure terminal of an airport is a gateway to an exciting opportunity for leisure or business travel.
For others it holds the promise of a new beginning. But for a growing number of people, it can be the prelude to a life behind bars.
This is the story of Dave who was recruited by a drug lord to traffic drugs to Brazil.
It all started because of a relationship with a woman who was a drug addict. This had left Dave financially strapped when she and her friends moved in with him. They left him financially destitute.
One day Dave received a call from *Jack, a local Nigerian drug lord. He asked if Dave wanted to make extra cash. As he had lost everything, he agreed.
They then arranged to meet. He met Jack in the CBD in January, and they agreed on a payment of R25 000 plus his tickets and hotel expenses.
Jack took Dave’s passport and they parted. For nearly three months he did not hear a word from the drug lord.
Then out of the blue, Jack phoned him again, and asked him if he was ready to travel.
They arranged a meeting for that Sunday afternoon. On that day, he met Jack who had a bus ticket already arranged for him, and they travelled together to central Johannesburg.
In Johannesburg, they met another man named *Joe. They booked Dave into a five-star hotel where he stayed for a week with all his meals paid for. He then believed they would look after him.
After the week, they took a taxi to a neighbouring country. There they booked into a guesthouse. Jack and Joe gave him his flight arrangements which indicated his destination as Brazil.
Dave stayed at the guest house for four days. Clothes were bought for him as well as a suitcase and everything he needed for his trip to Brazil.
They then introduced him to a woman named *Alice who was with the two Nigerians.
On the fourth day Alice accompanied Dave to the airport. She spoke to a female custom official at the airport, showed her what Dave looked like and bribed her with $3 000 dollars to allow him back into the country with the drugs. He then caught a connecting flight to another country in Africa where he had a delay at that airport for a day.
It felt to him that things were going wrong so he went to Quatar Airways and paid them an extra amount to get onto an earlier flight to Abu Dhabi.
Nine hours later, he landed at Abu Dhabi international airport. The next morning, he flew directly to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Upon arrival Dave struggled to find a taxi driver who understood English. He then proceeded to the address Jack had given him.
He finally got to the hotel which was situated in the slum area of the city. On his third day there was finally a knock on his hotel door. It was his Brazilian contact *John.
John introduced himself.and gave Dave money, telling him he would meet him the following day.
The next day he arrived with a body bag which looked like a woman’s full costume.
He instructed Dave to strip and try the bag on. The costume didn’t fit as it was too small. John then gave him money and took the costume back with him to be resized.
In the meantime John had arranged with his various drug dealers – also known as runners – to bring Dave money on a daily basis. He spent a month in the hotel, isolated from his family and friends, as he was not allowed to keep his personal phone with him.
The isolation he started experiencing despite the constant cash flow took a toll on him mentally as the majority of the people around him couldn’t speak English.
The television in the room did not even have English channels, so Dave went deep into a depression.
After a month, John came to see him again and told him he would be moved to another hotel as he felt – despite a language barrier – Dave was becoming too well known among the locals. The fact that he was a South African also worried John as people were becoming curious as to why he was there for so long.
They then moved him into a hotel in an even worse part of the city which doubled as a brothel as most guests paid for the rooms per hour.
He spent the duration of his stay in a room with a broken toilet, the bed was filthy due to previous guests’ questionable excursions, and the dustbin still contained used condoms. Money was still not a problem as John’s runners kept supplying him with money. Dave begged of John to be returned to the previous hotel but to no avail.
John informed him that it was standard procedure and he had to stay there until the drugs arrived as they were not yet in Brazil.
Dave stayed isolated in the hotel for the next two months. He heard nothing from John as the money dried up. This while his thoughts were turning suicidal.
He believed they had abandoned him. Just then, John made an appearance again. He gave him a phone with a Brazilian cellphone card to keep in contact.
He warned him not to make contact with anybody in South Africa.
After complaining constantly and causing chaos at the hotel, Dave was evicted and landed up for two days with only his suitcase in the slum streets of Sao Paulo.
On the third day, John organised for him to return to the first hotel, confident that Dave had passed a mental, criminal, and emotional mind test.
For another three weeks he stayed isolated in his room. Then he met a Brazilian woman who spoke English named *Maria just outside the hotel. She took him out that night and for the first time, he finally saw the country’s tourist side.
Two days later, John arrived to tell Dave the time of his departure was approaching. Although he had a growing friendship with Maria, he didn’t reveal to her the real reason why he was in her country.
Over the next time period, Dave was constantly with John or his runners during the day and at night, he joined Maria.
While he was spending time with John, he found out there were five other South Africans there as well John was looking after, who had travelled the same route as he had.
One day, while walking with Maria to get food, John phoned him and asked where he was. John instructed him to meet him at the robot on the corner as he had seen him with a woman.
When Dave got to the corner, John was there in the company of two distinctive South African men.John instructed him to turn around and not look at the two men. He continued to question if the woman was not police that had accompanied him. John then turned around and nodded to the two other men to get on a bus and they obeyed.
This was the turning point for Dave.
He remembered that he had a family friend who was a policeman .
Now that John had given him the Brazilian phone, he sent an SMS requesting help to his police contact.
His family was notified that he had gone there for drug trafficking.
The policeman then got the organised crime unit and Interpol involved from South Africa. They arranged everything and made contact with Dave in Brazil.
A South African member of Interpol named *Johan then phoned Dave and told him he would be there as soon as possible. Four days later, the manager of the hotel informed him that there were people to see him.
Dave met the organised crime unit in Brazil. They assured him that they were his friends and would not arrest him. He was still afraid they were drug traffickers, but they revealed their badges to him.
At the coffee shop they assured Dave they had been sent by Johan” from Interpol. When he told them his story, he felt they didn’t believe him because of their expressionless faces.
The following day, Dave realised he was been followed by random strangers who spoke English and asked him if he was okay.
He was doing a dangerous dance, he had to keep the police happy and make sure that John did not suspect anything.
He also realised after spending so much time at the hotel, that it was a drug trafficking hub as most of the other guests from all over the world were there for the same purpose and their next destination was being processed from there.
Johan from Interpol met up with Dave at the hotel. He assured him that everybody was there to help him. He took Dave to the police station where he recognised some of the policemen at the station as the same people who were watching him.
The police then informed him that the two South Africans that he had seen with John had flown directly to Johannesburg where they had been arrested with an American for drugs at OR Tambo.
Dave realised at that moment that to those traffickers, he was just a body, it didn’t matter to them if the police arrested him. There would just be another body to take his place.
John then told him the time was approaching – in a week or two they would be ready with the drugs as is had just arrived in Brazil. He would be sent back to South Africa the same way he came.
The plan was that the body bag would be left in the sanitary dustbin in the toilet on the flight where a paid-off flight attendant would collect it and take it through customs.
He added that his body bag, tailor-made for him, was ready. In the meantime, the Brazilian police had given Dave a GPS device so that they could track him wherever he went. The day before his scheduled flight, John collected him from the hotel and took him to a tailor where he was fitted with a suit. He was ready to go.
Dave then had to go to the airport to confirm his return connecting flights, following the same route he had come from. At the airport the officials, upon noticing that Dave had overstayed his visit to Brazil by three months, informed him he could not return the same way and would have to take a direct flight back to South Africa.
When Dave told John the bad news, the latter assaulted him in the hotel room and then refused to pay his bill, cutting off all funds.
Dave again landed on the slum streets of Sao Paulo without a cent. The police could not help him as they knew the drug traffickers would watch how he survived. This continued for three weeks as he was forced to live off scraps and had to sleep in the park.
Finally, John sent a runner to inform him he could return to the hotel and they were ready to continue as the flight back had been sorted.
Dave informed Johan that John was on his way to the hotel with the body bag and drugs. Johan informed him that under no circumstances no matter what happened , should the drugs touch his skin or he would also land up being arrested.
As John entered his hotel room with the body bag full of drugs, Dave fled from the hotel room down the passage and into the street while phoning Johan for assistance.
To his shock, around 20 policemen stormed the hotel and went up to the room where they arrested John.
This was not the end of Dave’s ordeal. Upon landing in South Africa, the captain of the plane announced that due to security reasons there would be a delay.
Two custom officials boarded the plane and walked directly to Dave’s seat.
They requested to see his passport and insisted he accompanied them off the plane. The other passengers stared at him as if he was a criminal.
They went through the airport and collected his suitcase. As they received his suitcase off the conveyer belt, they realised it had been sealed by Interpol. They then accompanied Dave to customs. The one official then made a a startling phone call in front of Dave and phoned Alice. Dave heard her say that they have him and would search his suitcase.
He then realised that the two customs officials were working for the drug traffickers. They searched through his luggage and even got sniffer dogs to check. They found nothing on him.
Finally they released him. With no protection and stranded, his family fetched him from the airport.
When he got back to Nelspruit, Dave informed a local policeman about his experience. He took him and showed him where the drug lords stayed in town and who was involved. Frustratingly, Dave is still awaiting the drug traffickers arrest after eight months.
He was left feeling the only justice was that in Brazil.
He now lives in fear and hardly leaves his parents home. He keeps looking over his shoulder wondering if the drug lords are watching him.
* Names have been changed and dates omitted due to the on-going police investigation and for the safety of the source.