South African Customs – Recent Illicit Goods Busts

Customs teams from Durban, Cape Town, Gauteng and the Free State recently dealt a blow to non-compliant traders by busting drugs, illicit cigarettes and undeclared fuel.

Customs officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) were responsible for several major drug busts over the past couple of weeks, including the following:

  • On 8 February, a female passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped and her luggage scanned, which revealed suspicious images. After searching her luggage, officers discovered packages wrapped in black tape and containing a white powdery substance. The powder was tested and confirmed to be cocaine, valued at approximately ZAR54 284 349. Officers also searched a male passenger arriving on the same flight and discovered three body wraps on his torso, containing a white powdery substance. The contents were tested positive for cocaine, valued at about ZAR9 057 566. On the same day, officers intercepted a male passenger about to board a flight for Hong Kong and searched him. They discovered body wraps on his upper torso containing cocaine valued at about ZAR11 700 000.
  • On 2 February, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped by Customs officers and his luggage searched. After a luggage scan revealed irregular images, officers searched his bags and discovered packages wrapped in black tape containing cocaine, valued at about ZAR5 850 000.
  • On 27 January, in a similar incident to the above, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was arrested after Customs officers discovered a false compartment in his luggage, which contained cocaine valued at about ZAR6 750 000.

In all the above incidents, the suspects and goods were handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In the Durban incident, officers became suspicious of two containers of goods arriving on a vessel in the Durban harbour from China.

The containers, which were declared to contain glassware and household goods, were placed for examination at a cargo depot in Durban. 

Upon inspection by Customs officers on 5 February 2020, the containers were found to contain various suspected counterfeit goods, and several cartons with tablets packed in plastic packets.

Members of the Customs detector dog unit reacted positively to the cartons, which were tested and found to contain Methaqualone (Mandrax).

There was a total of 15 cartons, each containing 20 000 Mandrax tablets with a street value of about ZAR24 million. The case has been handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In Cape Town, officers were responsible for a massive bust of illicit cigarettes, one of SARS’ key focus areas when it comes to illicit trade (particularly in terms of lost revenue due to the fiscus). 

After receiving an alert from the Compliance Risk and Case Selection team about a possible mis-declaration of a container on a ship arriving in South Africa, a detention notice was issued to the shipping liner and the goods were detained in December 2019.

After following the required legal processes, a Customs Branch Physical Inspection team searched the container at the Cape Town harbour on 20 January 2020.

During the inspection, the team discovered 1050 master cases of “LEGATE” cigarettes, each case containing 50 cartons of 10 packets, with an estimated street value of about ZAR3 150 000.

If the consignment of cigarettes was not detected, the potential loss of revenue would have amounted to about ZAR12 208 350 in Customs & Excise duties and VAT. 

The Western Cape Customs Branch Inspection team has handed over the case to Criminal Investigations from further investigation.

In the Free State, Customs officers dealt a blow to another key area of illicit trade, ie. ghost exports or false declarations of fuel. On 31 January 2020, officers stopped a truck coming from Lesotho through the Ficksburg border post. They had become suspicious of this particular trucking company, as they had recently changed their route to using South Africa as a transit route from Mozambique to Lesotho. 

Officers noticed that the same truck had driven through the border into Lesotho the day before, having declared the truck full with fuel they acquired in Mozambique. The following day it re-entered South Africa, with the driver claiming that the truck was empty (which could indicate a possible ghost export in which they were trying to avoid paying taxes and duties/levies).

They then asked the driver to park the truck at the depot for inspection. However, after the truck was taken to the depot, the truck driver disappeared and the truck company’s lawyer was called to attend an inspection. 

Customs officers then discovered the truck contained 26 000 litres of diesel, with the owners having failed to pay duties and taxes totalling ZAR176 000 due to the fiscus. The truck was detained for further investigation.

And in a similar incident, two trucks were stopped at the Maseru Bridge border post on 4 February for falsely declaring fuel coming from Mozambique to Lesotho. The trucks contained 39 388 litres and 39 414 litres of petroleum respectively. Both were detained for further investigation. 

Source: South African Revenue Service [SARS]

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