A LOCAL medical cannabis company, Magic Dragon Medical, claims it has asked the High Court to order the release of a consignment of cannabis impounded by the army in Butha-Buthe enroute to South Africa earlier this month.
The army announced that it had seized a contraband of medical cannabis from a 23-year-old man who was allegedly attempting to smuggle it into South Africa. It accused medical cannabis companies of engaging in illicit trade of the product by farming it in Lesotho and smuggling it into South Africa to avoid paying taxes.
Magic Dragon has now come forward saying that the seized cannabis was in fact stolen from its facilities in Ha-Makhoati, Maseru. Magic Dragon also alleged that the army was under declaring the size of the contraband it had seized as the company had lost much more.
The army recently said it had seized 53 bags of medical cannabis but Magic Dragon this week said at least 80 bags worth more than M500 000 had been stolen from its facilities.
Magic Dragon director, Isaac Joseph, told the Lesotho Times this week that they had reported theft incidences at their facilities to the police last October. They were convinced that the cannabis seized by the army had been stolen from them.
He said he had positively identified the impounded medical cannabis after receiving pictures of the seized product. The packaging was exactly the same as that from his company, he said.
Mr Joseph, however, insisted that the impounded medical cannabis was way more than what had been declared by the army.
Therefore, his company had launched an urgent High Court application to compel the army to handover the cannabis. The Lesotho Times went to the High Court to try and peruse through the company’s court application. There was no record of any application having been filed by Medical Dragon at the time of going to print last night.
“Our lawyers have told me that they have made an application to the High Court seeking the release of our cannabis because it will get spoiled it is not stored properly,” Mr Joseph said.
“Our lawyers are currently negotiating with the state’s lawyers. I am told that the state does not see the need to continue holding onto the cannabis.”
Although Magic Dragon had “taken the matter to court”, Mr Joseph said there was still hope for an out of court settlement with the army.
Mr Joseph said he was convinced that the seized contraband was stolen from his facility because of the high number of theft incidences at the company’s facility since last October.
“It (the impounded cannabis) is from our facility. We have lost a lot of medical cannabis due to theft that has been happening at our plant from October last year. We have been receiving numerous reports of thefts from our staff.”
He showed the Lesotho Times two pictures with two sacks containing smaller transparent plastic packages of cannabis. He alleged that the pictures were sent to him by a senior army officer who wanted the company to confirm whether the product was from Magic Dragon.
He had thus positively identified the cannabis as theirs.
Mr Joseph said they were still quantifying their exact losses and the intended destination in South Africa of their “stolen” cannabis.
“We have invested a lot of money in this business and having to deal with this kind of theft is quite troubling.”
Mr Joseph rubbished claims that his company was itself behind the smuggling racket.
An officer in the LDF public affairs office, Lance Corporal Pule Maseela, two weeks ago said investigations by the military intelligence (MI) showed cannabis producers were smuggling the product for illicit sales in South Africa. This, he claimed, was partly for them to avoid paying taxes in Lesotho.
He said they had intercepted and recovered the 53 bags of medical cannabis destined for South Africa via Butha-Buthe.
Lance Corporal Maseela said preliminary investigations by the military intelligence (MI) showed that the cannabis had originated from one of the licensed local producers.
“Members of the 11 Infantry Battalion at the Phoku army post in Butha-Buthe on 13 January (2021) intercepted 53 bags of medical cannabis as they were being smuggled to South Africa,” Lance Corporal Maseela said in a statement.
“The cannabis was from one of the local production companies. The LDF’s military intelligence (MI) had received a tip-off about the planned illegal exportation of the cannabis to a South African farmer along the national boundary in Butha-Buthe.
“The army also managed to apprehend a 23-year-old male suspect when he was about to hand over the cannabis to a South African man who owns a farm on the other side of the boundary near the Mohakare River.
“The MI’s preliminary investigations have established that cannabis smuggling is done by the producers to avoid paying tax,” Lance Corporal Maseela said.
However, Mr Joseph rubbished the claims.
“That is rubbish. It is completely rubbish. We have a licence to operate in this business and if someone claims that we took our cannabis and attempted to smuggle it, they are talking rubbish. How can we smuggle our cannabis when we have a licence to legally produce and handle it in Lesotho?
“He (Lance Corporal Maseela) is just spoiling our company’s name and that is very bad. We are not smugglers. We are business people. We are not starting in business today; we are seasoned business people in this country.
“So, there is nobody who can come here and claim that we were smuggling cannabis. He does not even have the proof to back up his claims because we are saying we have lost cannabis and we have been reporting to the police to assist us with investigations into incidences of theft,” Mr Joseph said.
He said they had reported the thefts to Thamae Police Station in Maseru.
The Lesotho Times unsuccessfully tried to get a comment from the army on Mr Joseph’s claims that it had understated the amount of the contraband it had seized. Captain Sakeng Lekola, from the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)’s public affairs office, promised to call us back when we contacted him but had not done so at the time of going to print. Further efforts to contact him were fruitless.
Mr Joseph also blamed his staff for thefts at his firm’s facility.
“It’s obvious that this is an inside job because you can see how tight our security is. We have suffered a serious setback. We will have to take major steps again because this happened at a time when we thought we were on the verge of starting the extraction process but our product has been stolen.
“We must start planting all over again which is very expensive. Besides the licence fee, we use close to M100 000 for electricity monthly because cannabis needs warmth for it to grow. We control the temperature by using electricity.
“We had customers lined up. We had visitors from Israeli, Holland and many other places before the world was hit by Coronavirus. They came to inspect our plant and advised how we must plant the cannabis for them to be able to come and buy our product. This product is on high demand. It is just that we are still learning the best practices to attract the best customers,” Mr Joseph said.
Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli said Mr Joseph must produce a case number to back up his claims that the company had reported thefts at its premises to the police.
“They must give us a case number,” Senior Superintendent Mopeli said.
However, Mr Joseph could not immediately provide the case numbers for the cases he claimed to have reported. He said he no longer had the numbers.