The Hawks in Limpopo have embarked on a massive investigation related to an attempt by criminal syndicates to bring illicit cigarettes into South Africa through Beit Bridge port of entry, across the Limpopo-Zimbabwe borderline.
In January this year, the police and customs officials successfully intercepted syndicates dealing in cigarettes, and seized their vehicles transporting the illicit goods.
Cigarette brands such as Remington Gold, Madison, Sevilles, Magazine Blue, Chelsea and Pacific Blue to the value of R5 million, were seized. This recovery resulted to the arrest of 38 suspects, mostly foreign nationals.
Given the tight security at the Beit Bridge port of entry, the syndicates are changing their modus operandi of creating false compartments in heavy-duty vehicles by now using luxury vehicles as a means of transport to avoid detection.
We are now moving in the direction of determining the links of these syndicates.
The trade in illegal cigarettes is estimated to have cost the government over R5 billion in excises and VAT for 2012. The Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA) estimates that the fiscus lost approximately R12 billion over the past three years due to the trade in illegal cigarettes. Independent research shows that the illegal trade in cigarettes now accounts for 30% of the total cigarette market in South Africa, with approximately 55% of illegal tobacco products reaching South Africa from Zimbabwe.
“Our aim is to kill the criminal mind so that these syndicates do not design new ways to avoid detection”, said the Limpopo Provincial Head of the Hawks, Major General Dibero Molatjana.
Investigations are continuing.