Beware of ‘new drug craze’ in Mzansi sparked by catalytic converters

On Wednesday, February 2, 2022, the South African Revenue Service’s (SARS) Customs Division intercepted three shipments of catalytic converters and crushed powder from the core of a catalytic converter worth R21 million at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
A new drug frenzy is being fueled by crushed powder recovered from the core of a catalytic converter.


SARS said the Customs dog detector unit intercepted the three shipments weighing 2 649 kg destined for Dubai, the United Kingdom and Jordan.
The catalytic converters and the powder extracted from the core of a catalytic converter were concealed in metal drums and bags. The consignment was declared as Ceramic Catalyst Sample. The South African Police Service’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks) were alerted about the detection and the goods handed over to them for further investigation.
SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter praised the Customs officials of the dog detector unit for their vigilance in preventing the illegal trade in substances which could be used in the manufacture of weapons and drugs.
“The seizures are evidence of the dedication and commitment of the SARS Customs officials to stamp out the trade in illegal and harmful substances,” Kieswetter said.


A catalytic converter contains metals such as palladium, rhodium, platinum and gold. Through a refinery process these precious metals can be extracted and used for the manufacture of jewellery, car parts as well as weaponry.
The core of a catalytic converter which cuts the emission of toxic gases can be crushed into a fine powder and used in the manufacture of a toxic drug. This has led to a spike in the theft of catalytic converters in some countries including South Africa.
Five years ago, an ounce (28,3g) of palladium was worth $R500 (R7148, 88), according to a New York Times report from February 2021.
Last year, the value of the precious metal hit a record high of $2875 (R41 106) and is currently valued at between $2000 (R28 595, 52) and $2500 (R35 744, 40) an ounce.
Rhodium prices are even more remarkable and have increased by more than 3000 percent over the last five years.
An ounce that would have cost $640 (R9150, 57) then hit a record high of $21 900 (R313 120, 94) in 2021 – this is approximately 12 times the price of gold