US$500 000 cigarette bootleg seized in raid

Police and Zimra officials remove cigarettes from an illegal “warehouse” in Tshapfuche, Beitbridge

Zimbabwean Customs and Police have smashed a cigarette smuggling syndicate and recovered a bootleg of export quality cigarettes worth almost US$500 000 in Tshapfuche. The 1 081 boxes of assorted local cigarettes brands were kept at Edzisani Muleya’s homestead. Police said the house had become an illegal transit warehouse.

Muleya disappeared and police have since launched a manhunt. The Ferret squad, made up of the ZRP, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and other security agents raided the homestead on Thursday afternoon during an operation code-named Sukani Emanzini (Get out of the Limpopo River). Two men and a woman were arrested after police found them taking a nap on top of the cigarette boxes. The suspects kept their “merchandise” in five rooms. By end of day on Thursday, armed police had cordoned off the homestead. Several homesteads in the area were deserted when police arrived.

Police believe the homestead was a transit point for criminals who would then smuggle the cigarettes into South Africa through the Limpopo River. They said South Africa is a choice destination for regional cigarette smugglers who repackage them for export to Asia and other European markets. Another 107 boxes of Newbury cigarettes were recovered in Lutumba on the same day. Police intercepted a suspect attempting move the contraband to “safety”.

Police officer commanding Beitbridge district Chief Superintendent Lawrence Chinhengo yesterday said the raids were made after a tip-off. He said they recovered 311 boxes of Remmington Gold, 442 Cevils, 221 Dullas and 107 Newbury cigarettes. “We received a tip-off to the effect that Edzisani Muleya’s homestead in Tshapfuche area had been turned into an illegal warehouse for cigarettes”.

“We then raided the area on Thursday afternoon, where we found two men who had been hired as security guards sleeping on top of the boxes.” Chief Supt Chinhengo said police recovered documents with the movement, list of suppliers and other people who are part of the syndicate. He said investigations were under way. Last week, a 43-year-old Malawian trucker was fined US$1 000 for attempting to smuggle 262 boxes of export quality cigarettes worth US$35 000 through Beitbridge Border Post. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

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