Cops swoop on cigarette smugglers

The police dealt another major blow to crime syndicates smuggling contraband cigarettes into South Africa, when they swooped on three vehicles laden with more than R1m worth of counterfeit products.

Last month, 13 vehicles carrying contraband cigarettes were seized at the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, while five have been seized so far this month.

One of the two minibuses laden with contraband cigarettes seized by the police.

One of the two minibuses laden with contraband cigarettes seized by the police.

The latest incident happened when a special police unit swooped as the vehicles, which were jam-packed with fake cigarettes, crossed into SA from Zimbabwe in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The unit was following up on intelligence about suspicious movement on the Beitbridge border crossing near Musina, when they came across two Toyota Quantum minibuses and a Toyota Hilux bakkie crossing to SA.

But as they moved in, some of the occupants fled and managed to escape back across the border into Zimbabwe.

Three Zimbabwean nationals were arrested and the three vehicles, as well as 229 boxes of counterfeit cigarettes, were seized. The street value of 57250 packets of cigarettes is estimated at R1.4m.

The men are expected to appear in the Musina Magistrate’s Court today.

Francois van der Merwe, CEO of The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, told The New Age that around 400 million contraband cigarettes were smuggled into SA each month.

“Tobacco smuggling causes tax losses of R3bn per year in unpaid taxes, excise duty and VAT,” he said.

Last month more than 10 million contraband cigarettes were destroyed in Mpumalanga, after being confiscated at the Lebombo border post between South Africa and Mozambique.

In August, custom officials from the South African Revenue Services seized six million cigarettes during raids on several distributors in the Musina area, said Van der Merwe. Eleven suspects were arrested.

In a similar operation the next day, custom officials recovered a further 750 000 illegal cigarettes from a retailer in Ventersdorp, in the North West Province.

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