Hawks nab two in abalone bust

The Hawks say two Chinese men were arrested and R500,000 worth of abalone seized in the sting.

FILE: Northern Cape police seized abalone worth R10 million on the N9 highway on 5 February 2013. Picture: Supplied.

PRETORIA - Two foreigners were arrested and R500,000 worth of abalone seized in an anti-poaching sting, the Hawks confirmed on Monday.

Investigators confiscated dozens of bags of abalone as well as equipment used to prepare them for distribution.

Acting on a tip-off, officials raided the Pretoria east home.

They found fans and racks used to dry the raw product in several bedrooms of the house.

Hawks spokesperson Paul Ramaloko said, "Two Chinese men were arrested. We confiscated 200 kilograms of abalone worth about R600,000."

He has not ruled out the possibility of more arrests.

"We are not really sure where the abalone is coming from but our investigations are continuing. We believe that these suspects form part of a bigger syndicate."

Ramaloko says the men will be charged with contravening the Marine Resources Act.

Rampant poaching has decimated the abalone population in South Africa's coastal waters to feed demand for the high-priced delicacy in Asia.

Some researchers estimate that the illegal harvest in South Africa for 2008 was 860 tons, more than 10 times the legal total allowable catch of 85 tons per year.

Last week, a man was sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to helping transport 3,243 abalone.

He was part of an international criminal ring.

Peter Jansen appeared with more than 20 other suspects facing some 530 charges, including illegal possession of abalone, racketeering and corruption, in what officials described as the biggest bust in the country's history.

Alleged mastermind and Chinese national Ran Wei fled South Africa shortly after the bust.

He is being charged in absentia.

In Jansen's plea bargain, he admitted to hiring the car used to transport the abalone.