ZIM Police struggle to bust cigarette racket

CigarettesAn 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

Mauritius orders military hardware for Customs, Police and Coast Guard

The Mauritius Coast Guard flagship MCGS Vigilant [www.defenceweb.co.za]

The Mauritius Coast Guard flagship MCGS Vigilant [www.defenceweb.co.za]

The island nation of Mauritius has ordered a 50 metre fast patrol vessel from India, as well as machineguns, ammunition, body armour and interceptor boats in a major re-equipment drive.

The government of Mauritius said the order for the $20.5 million fast patrol vessel for the Mauritius Police Force/Coast Guard was signed on May 7 in Port Louis by the Senior Chief Executive of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Chairman and Managing Director of Goa Shipyard Ltd, Shekhar Mital.

The fast patrol vessel will be 50.44 metres long with a speed of 35 knots. It will be used for defence and protection work, surveys, pollution control, coastal patrol, anti-smuggling, anti-poaching, search and rescue, fisheries protection and monitoring of foreign chartered trawlers, amongst other duties. On the same occasion, an addendum valued at $1.4 million was also signed for arms, ammunitions, bullet proof jackets and helmets and medium/heavy machine guns for 10 Interceptor boats.

The contract for the design, construction and delivery of these ten boats was signed on April 9 this year and is worth $6 million. The 14.5 metre long boats will have a cruising speed of 20 knots and a top speed of 35 knots. Furthermore, another contract for the design, construction and delivery of one additional interceptor boat for the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA), at a cost of $600 000, was also signed on May 7. This boat will be used by the MRA to carry out harbour/anchorage and coastal patrols. Source: www.defenceweb.co.za

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)