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5 tonnes of illegal abalone seized

A Chinese national and three Mozambicans were arrested in the Benoni raid.

FILE: Police and fisheries officers discovered more than 50,000 shellfish in the raid in Benoni.

JOHANNESBURG - The police arrested a Chinese national and three Mozambicans on Tuesday in a raid on an illegal abalone-drying facility that yielded nearly five tonnes of the gourmet mollusc known as "white gold" in Asia.

Police and fisheries officers discovered more than 50,000 shellfish in the raid in Benoni, one of the biggest ever inland confiscations, officials said.

The four suspects will appear in court on Wednesday.

Destined for trendy restaurants in Hong Kong and China, abalone can fetch up to R4,500 a kilogramme on the South African black market, and nearly three times that in Asia, experts say.

Caught all along South Africa's extensive coastline, "perlemoen" as it is called locally, is sold for cash or exchanged for methamphetamines, helping fuel the already serious drug problem in Africa's most sophisticated economy.

Illegal harvesting is also driving the species to the brink of extinction in the region.

The seized abalone will be impounded by authorities before being processed and auctioned off to raise money for government efforts to combat wildlife poaching and smuggling, officials said.

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