Sheryl Cwele, wife of South Africa’s intelligence minister, has been convicted of drug trafficking for recruiting young women to smuggle drugs into the country.
Cwele, who is married to minister Siyabonga Cwele in charge of state security, recruited women to act as drug mules in order to smuggle cocaine into South Africa from Turkey and South America, a judge found.
Siyabonga Cwele has previously said that he had no knowledge of his wife’s drug dealing, and he did not attend court for the verdict. But his wife’s conviction has fueled calls from opposition politicians for his resignation, and sparked questions about whether she took advantage of his position in government.
Critics have said that if Cwele was unaware of his wife’s drug smuggling, then he should not be in charge of the country's security and intelligence operations, Reuters reports.
Cwele’s accomplice Frank Nabolisa, a Nigerian national, was also found guilty by at the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal province. Judge Piet Koen said that the pair had clearly worked together to recruit the women as drug mules, the Sapa news agency reports.
Allegations of drug trafficking emerged in 2008 after Tessa Beetge, a South African woman, was caught in Brazil with 22 lbs of cocaine worth almost $300,000, Sapa reports. Beetge is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Sao Paulo.
Beetge's mother testified that Cwele, a former neighbor, had arranged their daughter's trip to Brazil after offering her a job doing administration work overseas.
Another woman, Charmaine Moss, has been told to travel to Turkey and pick up an unspecified parcel, but refused the assignment and instead turned state witness.
The court relied mainly on text messages and emails between Beetge and Cwele to reach its conclusion, Sapa reports. In his ruling, Koen said that Cwele was involved in making travel arrangements for the women, and questioned they were paid such a large amount of 25,000 rands ($3,700) for work that required no qualifications.
Cwele and Nabolisa, who are due to be sentenced on Friday, had pleaded not guilty to charges including dealing or conspiring to deal drugs, and procuring the two women to smuggle drugs into South Africa.
The conviction is the latest blow to South Africa's security services, coming on the heels of the arrest in March of the police's crime intelligence chief over a deadly love triangle a decade earlier, AFP reports.
Police have also been heavily criticized for a series of scandals including brutality after a protester was killed last month, and corruption in contracts.