A 31-year-old man from the Eastern Cape province was arrested by the South African Police Service (SAPS) this week and charged with possession of unprocessed tobacco and bribery.
The suspect’s arrest came after a cargo of unlicensed tobacco was found and seized by customs officials at the Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe, heading to East London, according to a police statement on Wednesday.
Regional East London police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said that the customs officials then communicated with their colleagues in the area, directing them to a suspected warehouse on Klipheuwel Road.
Customs officials were met by Cambridge Rural Safety SAPS members on patrol near the suspected location. The team then entered the warehouse, where they found numerous boxes of unprocessed tobacco.
Kinana said that the owner of the tobacco was placed under arrest for possession and illegal activities conducted inside the warehouse.
“During the operation, police discovered about 1 279 boxes weighing a total of 200 kilograms of both raw and cut rag tobacco. The confiscated contraband is estimated at a street value of R10 million,” Kinana said.
The suspect then tried to bribe the officials, offering an undisclosed amount of cash, but was disappointed by their rejection. The cash was also confiscated by the police, Kinana explained.
He said the suspect is expected to appear in the East London Magistrates’ Court once the pending charges are finalised.
The unification of the SAPS and Customs officials earned the praise of acting provincial commissioner Major-General Zithulele Dladla.
“It is this kind of collaboration and information sharing that will ensure our success in breaking the backbone of the criminal network. I trust that our detectives will dig more into these despicable activities in order to expose even those who may have been part of the plan and business,” Dladla said.
The sale of illicit tobacco products has risen since the outbreak of Covid-19 in South Africa, which was followed by a government ban on the sale of cigarettes. The ban was later lifted.
According to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) Director of Customs Border Operations, Ports of Entry and Customs Compliance, Beyers Theron, most cigarette seizures for the 2020/2021 financial year occurred at the Beitbridge, Groblers Bridge, Kopfontein, Lebombo, and Skilpadshek border posts.
Customs enforcement statistics show that there was a total of 1 150 seizures equating to 181 668 974 sticks of cigarettes with an estimated value of R219 870 354 and R92 182 worth of tobacco.
This resulted in a loss of R163 000 000 in duties and value-added tax (VAT) for the same recorded period.
-African News Agency (ANA)
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