Bodies pile up in fight for Australian drug trade
As underworld mobster Radovan Krejcir got out of his bulletproof Mercedes AMG into the parking lot of his diamond business in Johannesburg, there was nothing suspicious about the VW Polo parked opposite.
Krejcir was on his mobile and took three steps across the lot when, via remote control, the licence plate of the VW lowered and 10 mounted gun barrels came out, spraying bullets and peppering his car with at least 30 rounds. Once the VW guns emptied their clips, the car exploded in flames. The bullets missed. “It was like something from a movie,” Krejcir told media of the 2013 gadget-rigged assassination attempt. “All my life is like James Bond stuff, that’s how I live my life.” Towns targeted: Australia’s new bikie ice age — is it near you? Heroin: Female undercover cop’s harrowing drug mule mission Fast forward to last month and in equally movie-script style, South African soccer star and TV presenter Marc Batchelor is shot dead in a hail of bullets, fired assassination style by two gun-wielding professional killers on the back of motorbikes who pulled up alongside his car as he entered the driveway of his Johannesburg house. It was the third slaying of that style. The spectacular plots not only highlight how South Africa has emerged as one of the world’s great drug smuggling hubs and the lengths people will go to protect their export market, but are linked directly to Australia’s criminal underbelly and an illicit drugs market that knows no bounds. “South Africa has emerged as an important place to ship drugs to Australia now, one of the most important; it’s a storage point and there is a lot of storage waiting to be shipped,” one law enforcer, who asked not to be named, told True Crime Australia . Australian Border Force intelligence six years ago detected a new pattern of cocaine seizures coming in from South Africa, not usually a port for such drugs. Further intelligence found similar patterns across Asia, with imports received from Cape Town and Durban, a circuitous route to throw off suspicions from the usual trafficked drugs in containers from South America. Now too, methamphetamine precursor chemicals are travelling from China and India, being repackaged for smuggling in South Africa and Nigeria, and are dispatched to Australia hidden in everything from farm and mining machinery to bottles of Chardonnay. One of the latest came on July 14 when police seized an excavator being imported from South Africa to be delivered to a business in Bungendore. Police allege 384kgs of cocaine worth $140 million was hidden inside and was expected to be cut, bagged and sold about Canberra and the Snowy Mountains during this ski season. The drug haul is suspected to be part of a larger plot involving up to one tonne of coke from Colombia. There are strong suspicions coming out of South Africa that Batchelor’s execution was linked to at least the excavator element of the drugs haul. Perhaps no coincidence he was an associate of the Czech national Krejcir, as well as Eastern European-born heavy, based in Cape Town, Nafiz Modack, who is never seen without half a dozen bodyguards. Five other associates of Krejcir have also been spectacularly murdered in recent years, most suspected to be involved in the international drugs trade, including trafficking to Australia. They include Serbian national Ivan Djordjevic who was executed in April in Johannesburg in similar circumstances as Batchelor and was also involved with the football star in allegedly stealing a haul of cocaine, reported to be up to one tonne, from the Serbian Mafia and expected to be sent to the Netherlands, Brazil and Australia. There are links also to Serb national mobster and international drugs trafficker Darko Kulic executed in Johannesburg in 2018 after he was apparently involved in another slaying of Montenegrin-South African George Darmanovic, a friend of Modack’s. These followed another two hits on Serbs in South Africa a few months earlier. George Mihaljevic an associate of Krejcir whom he had a falling out with, was shot dead in a similar fashion to Batchelor, with assassins on motorbikes pulling up alongside of him. He was the 14th victim of Eastern Europeans based in South Africa murdered since 2009, excluding another five foiled professional hits. The latest murder, of Batchelor, has brought in police investigators from Serbian capital Belgrade since there have been at least three killings there directly linked to South Africa. But it has also brought in Australian authorities to help map the tri-continental drugs plot. South African police have determined the haul of drugs some of the men were involved with was originally owned and controlled by Serbian mafia based both in their country and Eastern Europe. Gangland retributions in that country have in recent years captivated the public there, and authorities point out that the link between the two Commonwealth countries is not new, but in the last decade has grown exponentially as the market value of illicit substances in Australia emerged as now the highest in the world. The serving law enforcer told True Crime Australia that Krejcir particularly had been on Australia’s radar for years with intelligence suggesting he was behind plots to shift bulk consignments of cocaine and methamphetamine (ice) or tik as they call it in South Africa to Australian ports. He and Balkan associates were suspected to have been behind a plot to ship a container load, possibly carrying up to a tonne of ice a couple of years ago which was believed to have left Port Elizabeth but then apparently lost overboard en route to Asia during a storm. Krejcir, in 2016 was sentenced to 35 years for drugs plots, attempted murder and kidnapping, was also named as suspected to be involved in the execution murder of a Lebanese gangster, a Serbian mobster and at least one other plot to bring 25kgs of ice to Australia. But he is also suspected of being linked to Balkan-based Australians using South Africa as a drugs distribution point. “There has been suspicions of drugs coming out of Port Elizabeth and Cape Town to Australia for years … there are multiple people involved in shipping to Australia but they are linked, (Krejcir) was a link to Australia’s organised crime presence in Eastern Europe, Montenegro, Albania these places,” one source told True Crime Australia. “But they (local South African criminals) are all killing and bombing each other because they want to control the drugs exporting to places like Australia because it is worth so much.” One Australian known to operate in South African drugs trafficking is an old-school criminal who allegedly ran the heroin distribution on the streets of Kings Cross in the 1980s. Radomir (surname redacted) left Australia in the 1990s, with a warrant issued for his arrest on June 24, 1993 for failing to appear in Wollongong court for robbery offences. But police suspect he has been living in the Adriatic seaside town of Budva in Montenegro in Eastern Europe and allegedly rejoined the Balkan organised crime milieu, organising the sending of drugs, cocaine and methamphetamine, to Australia from among other countries South Africa. The 65-year-old is considered by the Australian Federal Police to be a second tier criminal, one of five men, based overseas as key Balkan suppliers/organisers on imports of illicit goods into Australia. The others are also based in the Balkans with one in China. They have all been formerly from Australia but live in virtual exile overseas to continue to ply their multimillion-dollar drug trafficking trade. These include a shadowy 59-year-old Western Australian cocaine cartel and casino boss who also fled Australia in 2003 to set up bases in Spain and Montenegro and a former Canberra-based national champion athlete of Balkan descent last positively seen by undercover British police in the UK in a clandestine transit meeting at Heathrow Airport. Radomir is considered to be extremely well connected to all levels of organised crime from the global primary suppliers right down to distribution networks run by Outlaw Motorcycle gangs in Australia. The men are suspected of trafficking into Australia, all states, a whopping six tonnes of MDMA and hundreds of kilos of cocaine each year, only a fraction of which is seized. The source added they were aided in large part by bribed authorities at all levels. “The level of corruption in South Africa is unbelievable,” he added. Unlike other African countries, South Africa’s high levels of wealth and banking and the Western efficiency of transport links, including air and sea ports and commercial direct flights, have made it an ideal hub for criminal cabals to set up distribution operations. But like other nations in that region corruption in South Africa is rife and also makes it an attractive destination for criminal operations. “South Africa is a huge problem for us on many levels,” the law enforcement source said. In 2017, one of the biggest hauls of ice and cocaine from South Africa arrived on Melbourne docks. The Australian Border Force said the $186 million haul was sent via South Africa to throw off ABF intelligence for container searches as police arrested four men, one in Melbourne and three including a South African national in Sydney. In Sydney this year authorities made one of their biggest ever cocaine busts, finding $34 million worth from South Africa hidden in wooden crates in a consignment of furniture. A South African national is currently before the courts. Also still before the courts high-profile racehorse owner Damion Flower who has been charged with allegedly smuggling cocaine on commercial flights from South Africa to Sydney with the aid of baggage handlers. According to South African authorities, intelligence points to many of the drug shipments dispatched overseas in recent years being organised by offshore international syndicates including from Eastern Europe and Russia. The AFP declined to comment about the Eastern European-Australian dual nationals working with South Africans to bring drugs here and specifically Radomir but said the targeting of Australia was unfortunate. “It is an unfortunate reality that Australia is an attractive destination for organised crime groups to import narcotics due to the high prices they can obtain for their product on Australian streets, which is driven by high demand,” a spokeswoman said. “The AFP works closely with partners globally to target organised crime groups seeking to profit from trafficking narcotics through and out of the African continent. This includes having an AFP post in Pretoria, South Africa where we engage and work with international partner agencies on matters of mutual interest, including counter narcotics disruption strategies.” According to Interpol, about 70 per cent of serious organised crime that affects Australia comes from abroad, or has strong offshore links, and includes transnational organised crime gangs, firearms trafficking, financial crime, drug criminality and cybercrime.