An intricate web of smugglers, which reportedly involves manufacturers and middlemen, has been illegally carting cigarettes worth millions of dollars out of the country over the years, prejudicing the treasury of vital revenue.
Cigarette manufacturer, Savanna, has been fingered as one of the main culprits, while multinationals like BAT have also been mentioned in the illicit cross-border trade, mainly to South Africa.
Commonly smuggled brands include Remington Gold, Madison, Sevilles, Magazine Blue, Chelsea and Pacific Blue, manufactured by Savanna – which consistently denies smuggling.
A senior police sokesperson said “Even though we don’t always talk about it, we have managed to make significant arrests and the cases have been taken to court. The arrests include smuggling attempts at undesignated spots along the border and through official exit points such as Beitbridge”
A senior customs official told The Zimbabwean that cigarette smuggling, particularly through Beitbridge and Plumtree border posts, was difficult to arrest because of corruption.
“Policing at the border posts involves several agencies, namely the police, CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation), customs and special deployments from ZIMRA (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority). The problem is that these officers work in collaboration with the smugglers and haulage trucks and other containers carrying the cigarettes are cleared without proper checking. Hefty bribes are involved and the money is too tempting to resist,” said the customs official.
“You would be amazed how wealthy these officers have become. They have bought houses, luxury cars and send their children to expensive schools – yet their regular salaries are so low,” he added.
Immigration and customs officials, who also constantly liaise with their South African and Botswana counterparts and meet physically regularly, pretend to be checking the containers but clear them without completing the task, and know what the trucks and other carriers would be ferrying.
ZIMRA has four scanners for detecting contraband and an anti-smuggling team that also uses sniffer dogs, in addition to guard soldiers posted between the Zimbabwean and South African borders.
There are about 15 regular roadblocks along the Harare-Beitbridge road and 10 between Bulawayo and Plumtree that search trucks, buses and private cars. Despite this, the smuggling continues because of the collusion among the officials, said the source.
In early January, the Ferret team, a joint operation involving Zimbabwean and South African officers, intercepted a truckload of 790 Remington Gold cigarettes worth an estimated $119,000 destined for South Africa along the Masvingo-Beitbridge road. The smugglers were caught and arrested while offloading the cartons into small trucks. Source: The Zimbabwean