Convicted druglord Vicky Goswami was synonymous with suspected high-level mandrax deals in the 1990s and was publicly associated with prominent local figures – most notably football boss Irvin Khoza.
Goswami fled South Africa in 1995 after the disappearance and suspected murder of Soweto socialite-cum-drug dealer Rocks Dlamini. He surfaced in Dubai but was arrested in 1997 and given a life sentence for dealing in mandrax.
In 2012, after his early release, Goswami disappeared from view only to be rearrested two years later alongside members of the notorious Akasha brothers drug family in Kenya, from where he was extradited to stand trial in the United States.
It has since emerged that Goswami turned state witness – bad news for his local criminal associates. What he has revealed so far places South Africa at the centre of a sensational story of murder, money-laundering and global drug dealing.
Twelve tons of chemicals were delivered for mandrax production in South Africa and at least two assassinations carried out as one of the world’s more powerful international cartels tried to maintain its grip on the local drug trade.
Convicted drug dealer Vijaygiri “Vicky” Goswami has made these and other startling claims in a United States court.
Originally from India, Goswami operated and sometimes based himself in South Africa in the early to mid-1990s.
Much more recently, in 2017, he was extradited from Kenya to the US for drug crimes. He subsequently turned state witness and has been singing about drug-dealing, money laundering and murder stretching across three decades and around the globe.
He has testified that he has told the US government about his every criminal deed stretching back to 1993, when he was active in South Africa; something that will likely rattle his past and present associates.
In April, Vrye Weekblad reported that in sealed grand jury testimony, Goswami had implicated the Gupta family in alleged money laundering on behalf of Pakistani Muhammad Asif Hafeez, 60, known to Goswami as The Sultan.
AmaBhungane could not independently confirm this claim.
The US government has alleged that Goswami and Hafeez have a history of drug dealing together and that Goswami’s 1997 jailing in Dubai was “for his involvement in manufacturing and distributing methaqualone with Hafeez and others”.
Hafeez, a well-known figure in the British polo set, was arrested in London in 2017, accused of conspiring with Goswami and his accomplices, the Akasha brothers, to ship heroin, methamphetamine and hashish to the US. He is fighting extradition to the US, reportedly claiming he is the victim of mistaken identity.
Goswami, brothers Baktash Akasha Abdalla and Ibrahim Akasha Abdalla, and a fourth man, Gulam Hussein of Pakistan, were arrested in Kenya in November 2014 following a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) undercover operation. They had delivered 99 kilograms of heroin – allegedly sourced via Hafeez – and two kilograms of methamphetamine to DEA agents posing as representatives of a Colombian drug cartel.
They staved off extradition to the US until January 2017 allegedly by bribing Kenyan judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers.
Goswami reached a co-operation agreement with the US authorities that saw him testify first in secret to the grand jury, and then in public during the sentencing hearing of the Akashas, who had pleaded guilty.
Baktash Akasha may be sentenced this coming Friday and his brother Ibrahim in November.
Manhattan district attorney Geoffrey Berman previously labelled the Akashas “two of the most prolific drug traffickers in the world”.
South African sources with ties to policing told amaBhungane that Goswami has for years tried to maintain a monopoly over mandrax dealing in this country and apparently has high-level connections here, including intelligence operatives.
In his sensational testimony during the sentencing hearing in the New York Southern District court late last month, Goswami named several South Africans and persons with links to the country.
These include a businessman he identified as his brother-in-law, Dennis Jedburgh, who Goswami alleged was involved in mandrax smuggling and in organising two assassinations in South Africa, in 2014 and 2016.
AmaBhungane was unsuccessful in getting Jedburgh’s comment despite several attempts, including queries being sent to his relatives who were asked to forward these to him.
One Jedburgh relative said he had not been in contact for a lengthy period and that his whereabouts were unknown.
Goswami also claimed he once contacted a Johannesburg businessman, Ajay Goswami, because he wanted a drug rival known as “Pinky” killed in South Africa in 2014.
This month Ajay Goswami told amaBhungane that he knew Goswami, but that they were not related as Goswami had alleged.
He confirmed that Goswami had been in contact with him about five years ago and had demanded “extreme and unethical favours” from him.
He recalled being asked during a phone call to see to it that Pinky was killed but said it was so ludicrous he initially thought it was a joke. He subsequently cut contact with Goswami, but remained worried about his and his family’s safety.
Zambia and Zuma links
AmaBhungane understands that Goswami and a Zambian national who went on to live in South Africa, Ibrahim Sildky Yusuf, were at one stage brothers-in-law.
Their then-wives are said to be sisters of Dennis Jedburgh, who is apparently from Zambia and who later operated in South Africa and then the United Arab Emirates.
Yusuf was on the Zambian police’s radar in the 80s on suspicion of mandrax dealing.
His name also cropped up during a local investigation – in a 1987 affidavit Vuyo Ndzeku, a one-time drug smuggler then based in Cape Town, identified Yusuf by his alias Iboo, saying he was a mandrax seller.
Yusuf was never charged and has denied knowing Ndzeku.
The Mail & Guardian reported in 2010 that Yusuf’s company Intratrek held exclusive distribution rights to a questionable male circumcision device, the Tara KLamp, which the KwaZulu-Natal health department used in a campaign to prevent HIV transmission.
The report also said that Yusuf had been detained in Zambia in the 1980s for mandrax smuggling and later fled that country. Yusuf denied both these allegations.
In 2011, the newspaper reported that Yusuf was in business with Billy Masethla, a former National Intelligence Agency head then widely viewed as an ally of then-president Jacob Zuma.
Yusuf’s son Tariq was photographed hobnobbing with Zuma at a glitzy evening function linked to a charitable foundation with ties to Zuma.
Tariq also directed a company with one of Zuma’s sons, Mxolisi Zuma.
Dennis ‘the menace’
Jedburgh appears to have been Goswami’s key South African contact.
During the US sentencing hearing, Goswami testified that while behind bars in Dubai from 1997 he was laundering money via a Colombian cartel through countries including South Africa, the US and Canada. “In South Africa I ran the mandrax business while I was in prison (in Dubai).”
Goswami testified that at some point while in prison he allegedly arranged for Jedburgh to get a ton of abba, a substance used to produce mandrax, from Malawi to South Africa where Jedburgh was meant to conduct business for him.
Goswami said he had a mobile phone while in custody, so was able to contact associates on the outside, and that through his illegal business from jail, he made roughly three million US dollars.
His life sentence was eventually reduced to 15-and-a-half years and he was released in December 2012.
He alleged he had worked with a senior Dubai intelligence boss for years while in jail in exchange for a pardon, but this had not happened and instead he was granted an early release.
Goswami settled in Kenya where soon he started drug dealing again.
In 2013 he contacted the Akasha brothers – he’d known Baktash since the 1980s – and this became a seed for their mass drug smuggling empire.
During that time Goswami claimed to have ramped up his supply of mandrax precursor to Jedburgh.
According to Goswami, Jedburgh’s role was to manufacture the abba into mandrax tablets in South Africa and sell it as well as bring it to the US, where the drug is known as qualudes.
During cross-examination Goswami was asked:
“How much abba did you supply to him in South Africa?”
“How much money did you make in mandrax after you got out of prison in Dubai?”
“We made millions of dollars.”
The mysterious Mr Armstrong
A South African, David Armstrong, was named in the US court papers as being a rival to the Akasha brothers.
Goswami alleged that in 2013 Baktash told him that he was dealing in mandrax with Armstrong.
“Baktash told me David Armstrong was manufacturing mandrax tablet in Mombasa, in one of the politician’s house.”
According to Goswami, Armstrong later moved his mandrax manufacturing to a warehouse in the Kenya Central Highlands town of Nyeri, but was tipped off about a pending police raid and moved shop to a laboratory in Hong Kong.
In 2013 Baktash allegedly told Goswami that he was bribing officials in Nairobi to access tons of abba belonging to Armstrong, which had been seized and was being kept in a government warehouse.
That same year, Goswami testified, Ibrahim Akasha introduced him to Pinky, a South African drug transporter and Armstrong’s right hand man, in a Nairobi nightclub.
Goswami alleged Pinky transported drugs for “Baktash, for David Armstrong, and many others who sell the drugs from East Africa to South Africa.”
The year after meeting Pinky, 2014, Goswami then met Armstrong in Baktash’s Mombasa home – he said Armstrong was hiding there.
“Baktash told me David Armstrong is having some immigration problem, but we can solve it by bribing the Kenyan government officials and it’s going to cost around half a million dollars.”
Goswami handed over more than US$200 000 to try and help Armstrong and in return Goswami said Armstrong was “supposed to give me half a million mandrax tablets in South Africa”.
Armstrong also agreed to give Baktash a 25 percent cut of his mandrax manufacturing operation in the Congo.
But in April 2014 Armstrong fled from Baktash’s home without keeping up his end of the deal, infuriating Baktash. Soon, things became heated between the men.
Assassination in SA and mandrax destined for Cape Town
Goswami alleged that Baktash told him Armstrong was staying in Nairobi under the protection of a Kenyan politician and that Armstrong wanted him and Goswami murdered because he thought the duo sent immigration officers to his hideout in Nairobi.
Baktash summoned Goswami to his Mombasa home and Armstrong was there – Ibrahim had allegedly kidnapped him from a hotel – and they beat and threatened him.
Subsequently, Pinky contacted Baktash and threatened to take revenge over what they had done to Armstrong.
“So myself, Baktash and Ibrahim, we sat down and we said this is going too far now, we should have Pinky killed,” Goswami alleged.
“First of all, Pinky was threatening us; second, we wanted to have him killed so we can put an impression in South African drug market we are not here to play.”
This is where Goswami contacted both Ajay Goswami and allegedly his brother-in-law, Jedburgh.
“I offered Ajay Goswami half a ton of abba if his people can kill Pinky in return,” Goswami alleged.
Goswami testified that he also set up a meeting at Baktash’s house in June or July 2014 with Jedburgh and the Akashas.
“We offered that we can pay up to half a ton of abba to whoever killed Pinky… Jedburgh’s response, he said he can do that thing.”
Pinky was shot 32 times in a car in South Africa around August 2014. Goswami claimed Jedburgh notified him of the murder, and that Jedburgh got the half a ton of abba as promised.
In court, Baktash denied any involvement in the killing.
In September 2015, Goswami and the Akashas allegedly confronted Armstrong again in a Mombasa hotel about his unmet promises, beating him up in his hotel room.
Armstrong eventually paid over 150 000 Mandrax tablets in South Africa, Goswami testified. One of “Baktash’s men” allegedly picked up the consignment in Johannesburg, from where it was “delivered to one of my men in Cape Town” to be sold.
Around this time Armstrong is said to have died of a heart attack.
More SA murder links
Goswami testified that he and his associates also imported ephedrine, a component of crystal methamphetamine, which was allegedly produced in an Avon Lifesciences factory in Solapur, India.
But the factory was raided in 2016 and, according to the US court papers, it subsequently shut down.
Ten suspects were reportedly arrested and 7 others, including Goswami, were named as suspects
In April 2016, Goswami testified, Baktash asked him to get two tons of abba into South Africa. “He wanted to manufacture the tablets and sell them in South Africa, mandrax tablets,” Goswami claimed.
As part of this plan, Goswami called a man known as Taka in South Africa.
“I met Taka through Baktash and I know Taka has been working with drug business with Baktash for a long time,” Goswmai said.
But Goswami did not provide the abba as he felt he would not make money out of the plan – which angered Baktash.
Goswami alleged Baktash broke into his home after threatening to beat up Goswami’s girlfriend.
Goswami then told someone known as Mazaghadi – “my associate who I deal with him in drugs in South Africa” – about what Baktash had done.
Mazaghadi indicated he wanted Taka killed. Goswami agreed as, he said, Taka was pressuring Baktash for the two tons of abba and this led to Baktash threatening Goswami. Eliminating Taka would remove the pressure from Baktash.
Taka was murdered in South Africa the day after Goswami spoke to Mazaghadi.
“Some shooters went to his house and they killed him in his house,” Goswami said. He alleged he assigned the task of killing Taka to Jedburgh.
AmaBhungane has not been able to identify Pinky or Taka.
‘Master manipulator’ cosied up to Mandela
The Akasha brothers’ defence team in the US has labelled Goswami a “master manipulator” who would easily lie and exaggerate the role of his associates to avoid jail time.
In cross examination, Goswami admitted selling out his own laundry network to the Dubai authorities, leading to the arrest of 11 people. He also admitted paying “some individual” US$10-miilion to secure his early release from prison in Dubai, but insisted he had never bribed anyone in exchange for his release.
It was also revealed that while out on bail after his arrest in Kenya and prior to his extradition he was approached by the Indian foreign intelligence agency.
Goswami testified he had been asked to arrange the assassination of a “terrorist” in Thailand and “two or three” in Pakistan and that he had agreed to help.
It was put to him that he agreed with the agency to participate in assassinating Dawood Ibrahim, one of India’s most wanted fugitives and a man the defence described as one of Goswami’s main rivals in the drug trade.
Defence counsel Dawn Cardi put it to Goswami: “You really have no problems with killing people, correct?”
He answered: “At that time, yes.”
Co-counsel George Goltzer told the judge: “He’s a remarkable witness… He is a master criminal. Think of it, Judge: He gets arrested in Dubai and sentenced to life, and while he is serving a life sentence, within a period of two years he earns $3 million by laundering 400 to $500 million around the entire world. I have never seen anything like that… He had connections all over the place. He had connections in Dubai. He had connections in the Arab speaking world. He had connections in Pakistan. He had connections in Japan with the Yakuza. He was laundering money all over the world.”
Goltzer said when Goswami had Pinky killed, it was to hurt Armstrong and take over his business: “This guy’s been a terrorist all his life. He was going to do a ton of heroin with the Sultan. He was going to turn himself into one of the biggest drug dealers in the world while he was cooperating with other governments and while he was out on bail.”
The defence has portrayed Goswami as always having been exceptionally conniving – it was put to him that decades ago he tried to ingratiate himself with influential figures in South Africa, among them politicians including Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, to try and gain protection from punishment for his drug dealings.
Goswami denied this but confirmed taking a picture together with Mandela.
In 2014 he reportedly told the Sunday Times, “I knew some of the ANC leaders and ministers when I was in South Africa from our days in Zambia. I gave money to the ANC and contributed to the struggle.”
Hold over SA
According to sources with ties to policing who previously looked into Goswami and his South African associates, several figures who were identified as suspects in the late 1980s to mid-1990s slipped through policing cracks for two main reasons.
The first was that some police officers, intelligence operatives and politicians colluded with those under investigation; the second that intelligence and policing services underwent massive restructuring post-apartheid.
In the 1980s and 1990s local police investigators had focused on a group of men, some who were at first based in Alexandra and Soweto, but who later started moving elsewhere in the country as investigations into mass mandrax dealing were ramped up.
According to two sources with links to police and drug dealing investigations, probes in the 1980s had revealed that drugs were being smuggled around the country and across borders in various ways, including by air.
One said that mandrax consignments were being smuggled, sometimes unaccompanied, in the cargo holds of planes on behalf of men who police suspected were linked to Goswami.
Goswami told US authorities he started drug dealing in 1987, which means he likely shared details about his subsequent activities in South Africa.
“If Vicky Goswami must talk, your whole SA infrastructure collapses,” a local source who investigated Goswami in the 1990s told amaBhungane. He was referring to drug dealing networks set up decades ago, some of which were still possibly operational.
The most notable South African figure who Goswami associated with was Orlando Pirates chair Irvin Khoza.
Both Goswami and Khoza were under intense investigation because of suspicions they were involved in a high-level mandrax syndicate with operations stretching to India, Zambia and Mozambique.
Khoza has always denied these claims, though he reportedly was arrested in Zambia on suspicion of mandrax possession in 1983. According to the book Nothing Left to Steal by Mzilikazi wa Afrika, he paid a fine of 95 kwacha.
As probes into Goswami and his associates in South Africa developed, some suspects were murdered and in one case a suspect disappeared, an incident which remains unsolved.
Much to the chagrin of at least two investigators who looked into Goswami and his South African associates in the 1990s, some suspects were never held to account and they became successful businesspeople.
Looking back – Goswami’s suspected SA associates
Between 1991 and about 1993 the then South African Narcotics Bureau’s Operation Rose probed Goswami and his suspected local counterparts.
Those flagged included Khoza, Abie “Pankie” Khabela, who in the early 70s played for Orlando Pirates and who at one stage was a bodyguard for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as well as Khabela’s friend, suspected large-scale drug peddler Keith Sekhukhune Motapanyane.
While Goswami left South Africa in the mid-90s, the mandrax scene in this country started heating up and a string of crimes were carried out.
The first still remains unsolved and Goswami may have shed some light on it while detained in the US.
Soweto drug dealer Robert “Rocks” Dlamini, an associate of both Goswami and Khoza, disappeared on April 6, 1995, while reportedly on his way to see Khoza.
According to a source, Dlamini had apparently been headed to Khoza after he and some associates had gone to Mumbai to collect a massive stash of mandrax, but once there were told instead to collect it from persons in South Africa.
They were left empty-handed, and wanted to be reimbursed.
Khoza, according to a Sunday Times article, denied involvement in the Dlamini incident.
Dlamini’s disappearance remains unsolved.
The ex-investigator said that around the time Dlamini went missing, Goswami left South Africa.
In the US court, Goswami issued two curt denials when he was asked under oath, “Isn’t it a fact that it was reported that [Dlamini] disappeared after a drug deal went bad with you? … Is it true that you hired [a] well-known soccer boss to take care of him?”
AmaBhungane was unable to get comment from Khoza despite multiple attempts via his personal assistant, Orlando Pirates’ spokesperson and a number listed as Khoza’s.
Body in a boot
A policing source said that roughly the time Dlamini disappeared, the South African Narcotics Bureau opened a file on a businessman based in Camps Bay, Bhekizulu Tshabalala, who had made massive cash deposits at a bank in Cape Town’s city centre.
The source said that the deposits were then transferred to an account which investigators linked to a businessman in Johannesburg suspected of working with Goswami.
Investigations revealed that Tshabalala played a role in supplying massive consignments of mandrax, some from Zambia, largely to now-deceased gang boss Colin Stanfield, who would ensure it was distributed and sold in Cape Town.
Tshabalala was discovered murdered in the boot of his car at Cape Town International Airport in June 1996. He had been shot in the head.
Tshabalala’s wife’s alleged lover was eventually convicted of his killing, but suspicion still exists among those who monitored Tshabalala’s drug operations as to who truly orchestrated the murder.
“Pankie” Khabela, another figure who had been under investigation with Goswami, also ended up dead.
He and a friend, Lucas Msipha, were shot execution-style in July 2001 at his home in Montana near Bishop Lavis, a Cape Town suburb that is also a stronghold of the 28s gang.
Court papers covering the convictions of Khabela’s three killers do not detail why he was murdered.
One policing source told amaBhungane that Khabela was assassinated because “he knew too much” about prominent figures involved in high-level mandrax peddling. A second police source said it was suspected Khabela was feeding information to intelligence operatives and was killed to prevent him from divulging more.
Murder at a wedding
In March 2002, barely eight months after Khabela was killed, his associate and friend, Keith Motapanyane, who was also under investigation for mass mandrax dealing, was murdered by gunmen who stormed a wedding celebration in Orlando West, Soweto.
It was reported that soccer star Doctor Khumalo was one of two guests who were wounded in the brazen attack.
At the time Motapanyane’s brother, Victor told a City Press reporter: “It is obvious that the killings are being orchestrated by powerful people.”
One of the police sources told amaBhungane that Motapanyane’s killing had been expected because he, given his proximity to Khabela, also knew too much.
Based on what investigations uncovered in the 1990s, according to this source, Motapanyane had sometimes acted as a sophisticated decoy drug mule.
He was a high-profile individual and therefore more likely to attract attention, so he would often take flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg with two others who would act as scouts to ensure drug consignments on a plane, kept in the cargo hold, ended up where intended.
These ghosts may now return to haunt old suspects if Goswami has implicated them in the US.
The US and South Africa are both member countries of Interpol. AmaBhungane understands the two are sharing information on overlapping matters, which should include the Goswami case.
In March, national Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi told amaBhungane they were aware of the Goswami matter unfolding in the US. “But it has not been brought yet by any authority for the attention of the Hawks,” he said.
At the time, national police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo told amaBhungane police were not aware of the Goswami matter.
In late July we again asked Mulaudzi and Naidoo if there had been any developments.
Naidoo said the police’s Interpol office had nothing about the matter on record, while Mulaudzi did not provide a response by the time of publication.
*Caryn Dolley is the author of The Enforcers: Inside Cape Town’s Deadly Nightclub Battles (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2019).