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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 17:27 GMT
SA police break platinum ring
Police arrest an alleged platinum smuggler
$1m worth of platinum was recovered
South African police have arrested 40 people, including two police officers, during an operation aimed at stamping out international platinum smuggling.

It's still going on out there, but we hit them hard today. It's like drug smuggling - there will always be a market for it

Ernie van Rensburg
Police spokesman
The arrests were made during a series of armed raids in North-West province.

Houses and business premises were searched during the raids, which came at the end of a two-year undercover operation to stem the flow of illegal platinum through smuggling syndicates.

South Africa is the world's biggest producer of platinum.

'Money laundering'

Police officials say that theft and smuggling represents a major threat to the precious metals industry.

Police divisional commissioner Johan de Beer said: "The theft and illegal trafficking in (platinum) can also be directly linked to well planned international money laundering schemes."

Platinum ear-rings
Some of the platinum was allegedly smuggled to Europe

During the raids, police uncovered blow-torches used to cut solid platinum into nuggets which are easier to transport.

The police said that platinum worth nearly 9m Rand, $1m, had been recovered during the operation, which was carried out in conjunction with two platinum mining houses.

European end

A police spokesman said that much of the illicit mineral was smuggled to Europe, in particular Germany.

Ernie van Rensburg said that Interpol was working with the South African police to track down those who received the platinum in Europe.

The 40 suspects, who include several mine employees, are expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

Mr van Rensburg said he was happy with the operation but accepted that it did not mean the end of platinum smuggling in South Africa.

"It's still going on out there, but we hit them hard today. It's like drug smuggling - there will always be a market for it," he said.

See also:

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