R292m heroin plot collapsed under weight of Cape wine
Behind one of South Africa's biggest drug busts was a simple plan. And it went wrong in the simplest of ways.
The alleged mastermind in the plot to smuggle a ton of heroin to Europe placed a large export order with Lode Lemahieu, the Belgian owner of Eerste Hoop winery in the Overberg region of the Western Cape.
Then he claimed to have a South African buyer for half the wine, and sent a van to collect it at Lemahieu's Witklip farm, between Villiersdorp and Grabouw.
Two days later, though, claiming the local deal had fallen through, he returned the wine to Witklip, saying it would be going to Spain after all.
Then farmworkers noticed piles of boxes leaning over, and found that more than 1,500 bottles of wine had been replaced with heroin worth an estimated R292-million.
Details of how the plot unravelled emerged this week after a raid by the Hawks on the home of Peter Ros, a Harley-Davidson dealer in Somerset West, in which they seized a Lexus vehicle, narcotics and two laptops.Ros was already in his native Netherlands when his girlfriend's son, 23-year-old Mark Rodrigues, was arrested after the discovery of the drugs.
A few days later Ros's business associate, Peter Hering, fled to his native Belgium on his lawyer's advice after police began investigating his role in what is being considered an international smuggling operation.
Hering, 48, told the Sunday Times this week that he introduced Ros to Lemahieu, leading to the purchase of 1,200 cases of wine, each containing six bottles.
Ros then asked him and his South African brother-in-law to transport half the consignment to a rented warehouse in the Strand.
The warehouse is owned by Belgian architect Willy Woestyn, and Hering said Ros had installed an alarm system without Woestyn's knowledge. The Sunday Times was unable to contact Woestyn this week.
It was at the warehouse that Hering believes wine was replaced with heroin in 252 boxes.
Hering, who has dual Belgian and South African citizenship, said he would be back in the Strand, where his estranged wife and child live, when the Hawks had completed their investigation and realised he had "nothing to do with it".
"I hope that in a few weeks I will be back - as soon as the police have investigated things and [my lawyers] give me the green light that it's all right," he said. "I have given them my statements and everything."
The Eerste Hoop consignment was not the first Ros had tried to export to Europe.
Dennis Zetler, owner of the Mooiberge farm stall and farm between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, said Ros had paid him R264,000 in January for nearly 13,000 bottles of wine.
Ros tried to export the consignment to Belgium, Zetler said. But the authorities there refused to clear the "cheap" rosé and white wine, and in February Ros asked for his money back from Zetler.'I've done nothing'
On Thursday Ros appointed Keith Gess from Mathewson Gess Attorneys to look into the police investigation and his possible involvement as a suspect.
"What I'm trying to do is ascertain from them [the police] whether he is considered a suspect or whether there is any investigation into [Ros], and to then deal with it accordingly," said Gess.
"All I know at the moment is that Mr Ros is saying: 'Look, I've done nothing wrong, I don't know why these people are saying things about me,' and he told me to get to the bottom of it."
Ros is the majority shareholder in HP Car Rental, which operates Route 66 Motor Cycles in Somerset West.
The business sells Harley-Davidsons and has exported at least two containers of 15 motorcycles to Europe.
The Netherlands foreign affairs ministry in The Hague would not comment on whether Dutch authorities were co-operating with the investigation.
Interpol, which has been approached for assistance by the Hawks, did not respond to Sunday Times queries.
● Peter Ros arrived in South Africa, already the director of three companies:
April 7 2017
● HP Car Rental CC (became a director and owned 90% of the business)
April 11 2017
● HP Cars CC (became a director, owned 90%)
May 5 2017
● Ros Rental (Pty) Ltd (became a director but owned 0%)