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Lobster tails in hearse

A suspect nabbed in a thwarted attempt to smuggle lobster stashed in a hearse is out on bail.

The 24-year-old man was released on bail of R1 000 in his first appearance in the Strand Magistrates’ Court on Monday (9 November).

He was arrested after authorities foiled his alleged attempt to smuggle lobster tails worth thousands of rands, concealed in a body bag, in a hearse last Thursday (5 November).

Authorities pounced on the suspect who was driving the vehicle, which reportedly belongs to a Muslim burial service, the Cathkin Islamic Society. It was travelling on the N2 and those making the arrest acted on a tip-off and information circulated in the hopes of tracking the hearse down.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel André Traut said a former member of the police K9 unit, who is now based in Gauteng, received the tip-off and alerted a Daff official, who successfully made the arrest.

Heyns de Waal, chief operating officer of Gordon’s Bay Security (GBSec), said authorities swooped on the vehicle after their officers had spotted it travelling in the vicinity of the Gordon’s Bay/N2 intersection, around 16:00 on Thursday. He said the vehicle’s whereabouts were relayed to a Daff official, who reacted swiftly.

“A 24-year-old suspect was arrested in Gordon’s Bay with 5 441 West Coast rock lobster tails concealed in a body bag in the back of a hearse,” Traut said.

He said the haul was valued at R544 100. According to a Daff official, though, the value is just under R200 000, because the lobster tails weighed in at about 238 kg and the market value is R666 per kg.

Traut added that the suspect would most likely have been charged for the possession of excess lobster tails without a permit, possession of lobster not in a whole state, and possession and transport of lobster not in a whole state.

The suspect is expected to make his next court appearance early next year, as the case was postponed until 22 January.

In a media statement, Cathkin Islamic Society chairperson Sheikh Ikraam Tagodien expressed the society’s regrets.

In an attempt to offer clarity on its resources used in illegal activities he said: “It is well known that we are a non-profit organisation that assists the community, and we are always willing to assist where we can, especially when it comes to the deceased in ours and surrounding communities.

“Due to challenges that come with [operating] an NPO, we are at many times under-staffed and unable to do the janazah (burial) ourselves, so we sometimes hand the keys to a responsible person of the area or responsible member of the family to drive the deceased to their resting place.

“This has become more so during this pandemic, what with the number of deaths that has occurred due to Covid-19. Many organisations, communities and families have requested our assistance.

“It is under these circumstances that the person who committed this heinous act also approached us for assistance, under the pretext of knowing a family in need of assistance in his community. Unaware of his intentions, we handed the keys to him so he could put the deceased to rest and the family’s mind at ease.”

The chairperson further expressed the society’s disappointment and anger towards individuals who use sacred property, religious symbols or service organisations to commit “such wicked and disgraceful criminal acts”.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) condemned the incident in a statement, which read: “The MJC expresses shock and dismay at a report circulating on social media of an illegal shipment of crayfish tails confiscated from a vehicle described as being a hearse. From the images circulating, one can clearly see that it is in fact a Muslim hearse.”

MJC second deputy president Sheikh Riad Fataar, who heads the MJC Burial Administration, expressed anger over the incident, and said the council would investigate the matter to gather more information.

“The MJC calls on those among the Muslim community who commit crimes while using religious resources as a cover for their crimes to repent to Almighty Allah and refrain from acts of disobedience to Him,” the statement concluded.

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