Hijackers bleed cigarette exporters

While the world’s health authorities rally for legislation outlawing or at least curbing tobacco abuse, it seems there is a world of intrigue deep in the heart of the tobacco trade. 

Zimbabwe is investigating possible industrial espionage amid reports that South African tobacco firms are hiring hijackers to pounce on export cigarette consignments in transit to that country. In the past year or so, indigenous producers exporting to South Africa lost an estimated R100 million worth of cigarettes to armed robbery syndicates. Among the affected companies are Kingdom, Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.

Savanna Tobacco has confirmed losing cigarettes worth over R18 million through hijackings and robberies while their warehouse in SA has been broken into several times. Only British American Tobacco Company has been spared. At least eight Zimbabweans were arrested at Savanna Tobacco in Harare on suspected espionage. Cosygene Dekeya, a former army military intelligence operative and Edmore Muronzerei appeared in court last week.

Investigations by The Herald showed that the Tobacco Institute of South Africa contracted a security firm, Forensic Security Service, to monitor Zimbabwean cigarette manufacturers, whose brands are giving their South African counterparts stiff competition. Stephen Botha, a former apartheid military supremo owns Forensic Security Services, the company that allegedly recruited spies within the workforce of Zimbabwean cigarette manufacturers. The spies allegedly supply consignment export details, enabling the cartel to track, intercept and hijack. FSS is said to have engaged a local business mogul (name supplied) who owns one of the largest courier service companies to co-ordinate the spies and their payments. The mogul’s trucks have also been hijacked in what might turn out to be inside jobs. Local (Zimbabwean) companies now suspect BAT of being behind the formation of TISA, which has since been regionalised.

Savanna Tobacco executive chairman Mr Adam Molai said it was shocking that South Africans were infiltrating local security organisations to commit economic crimes and bleed the economy. “It is deplorable, you cannot have foreign agencies working for our competitors to distabilise our operations in Zimbabwe. We hope our authorities will ensure that issues of this nature are dealt with accordingly,” said Mr Molai.

Trednet administrative manager Mr Graham Acutt said his company had reduced production by 70 percent. “We are aware of the under cover operations for quite some time now. This is tantamount to industrial espionage and it is highly illegal and frowned upon the world over. Imagine people spying on you and following your consignment. It becomes sensitive and clients will stop buying your product,” he said.

Mr Acutt said he was aware that police were investigating and he was willing to assist as much as he could. “We need more help from the authorities in Zimbabwe to investigate those who are actually behind this. We will assist where we can. This espionage has compromised our ability to export and obviously to earn foreign currency for the country,” he said.

Breco, which is now trading as Fodya said their market intelligence has over time indicated that there were clandestine activities being undertaken by some organisations to disrupt their business. “We understand most companies in this industry experienced this form of activity in one form or another,” said Breco in an e-mail to The Herald. “What is most alarming is that some of the organisations involved in these activities are externally-based and being assisted by local Zimbabweans. If the activities of these institutions or organisations are the real basis for our reduced capacity, then it is illegal,” it said. Source: The Herald (Zimbabwe)


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