South African authorities have sentenced three Bulgarian nationals to lengthy prison terms for their involvement in a large-scale cocaine smuggling enterprise involving at least three vessels.
The men, identified by prosecutors as Mario Radoslavov Vasev, Asen Georgiev and Atanhas Mihaylov Bikov, were arrested during a drug raid on the cargo ship Windward on March 1. South African police had been tracking suspected cocaine smuggling activity in several ports, and targeted the Windward during January and February.
After the vessel made a ship-to-ship transshipment in late February, investigators swooped in and seized 973 blocks of cocaine and some $1.1 million in cash. The wholesale value of the haul (on the South African market) is estimated at $41 million, making it the second largest cocaine seizure on record in the country. The ship has been seized, along with two other suspected smugglers.
In just two months, South African prosecutors secured convictions and lengthy prison sentences for the three alleged ringleaders. Vasev, Georgiev and Bikov were convicted of illegally entering South Africa and trafficking drugs. After accounting for suspended time, they were given prison sentences of 12, 13 and 0 years, respectively (unless they are subsequently convicted of another offense). They will also forfeit assets related to their smuggling activities, including luxury cars purchased in South Africa.
The six Burmese crew members of the vessel and another Bulgarian national were released. Investigations into the smugglers’ connections and distribution network are ongoing.