Archives For smuggling

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The notices detailing President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, attractive wall” were made public late Friday (3 April 2017) by Customs and Border Protection. The request from the Customs and Border Protection Department called for a 30-ft-high wall, but said that plans to build a wall minimum 18 ft in height may be acceptable.

“The north side of wall (i.e. USA facing side) shall be aesthetically pleasing in color, anti-climb texture, etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”, reads the RFP. In the documents, CBP says that the side facing the US must also be “aesthetically pleasing” in “color, anti-climb texture etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”.

And that’s before a new Trump budget, which came out Thursday, includes $2.6 billion over two years to begin construction of the wall. The government is asking for a 9-meter-high concrete barrier, extending 2 meters underground, built to be “physically imposing” and capable of resisting nearly any attack, “by sledgehammer, vehicle jack, pickaxe, chisel, battery-operated impact tools, battery-operated cutting tools [or] oxy/acetylene torch”.

Earlier this week Mexican lawmakers increased pressure on Mexican construction firms tempted to help build deeply reviled wall.

The proposal document asks contractors for 30-foot-long prototypes and mock-ups of 10 feet by 10 feet. Although Trump made it a centerpiece of his presidential campaign to get the Mexican government tol pay for the wall, expectations are low that the U.S.’s southern neighbor will give money while it’s being built or afterwards.

The specifications leave almost all of the design work to interested bidders, who now have about two weeks to develop and submit their plans, known as proposals. Trump called for the wall to stop illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico and to cut off drug-smuggling routes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in January that the wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, though other estimates have put the price tag as high $25 billion.

There was some misplaced optimism that Donald Trump would immediately jettison all of his inane campaign promises upon taking office; that the threat of a wall at the Mexican border would be quietly tabled for its obvious insanity.

Proponents of a wall make two questionable assumptions: First, that there will be a continued north flow of refugees. Friday’s release did not address the overall cost of the wall. The city of Berkeley, California, said last week it would refuse to do business with any company that’s part of the border wall. The cost of about 1,000 miles of wall could cost $21.6 billion between now and 2020. Published on Aliveforfootbal website

Johannesburg – They [smugglers] had cash stashed in 11 pieces of luggage including four backpacks – R78 million destined for the United Arab Emirates.

But eagle-eyed customs officials at OR Tambo International Airport were on to them and confiscated the bags with R23m and $3.775m in notes.

On the same day, R50m worth of cocaine stashed in hair product bottles was seized at the same airport, in one of the biggest crime-busting days at OR Tambo.

On Monday, SA Revenue Service (Sars) officials said five people had been arrested after being caught with the undeclared cash as they were about to leave South Africa.

“Risk profiling earlier by Sars custom officials identified the passengers, and led to their apprehension as they boarded the aircraft at 9.45pm.

“Upon noticing the officials, the passengers retreated and headed back to the entrance of the boarding gate. At this point, officials closed the boarding gate door and the passengers were compelled to wait for the Sars officials,” Sars said.

When asked whether they had any currency, one of the passengers apparently said he had R100 000 and that the other members of the group had currency with them.

“The five individuals were escorted back to immigration at international arrivals, booked back into South Africa and escorted to customs.”

Sars spokesperson Luther Lebelo said the bags with the cash had been handed over to the SA Reserve Bank.

“The matter has been handed over to the SA Reserve Bank for further investigations. Once the bank is satisfied that there is an element of criminality, they can take the matter to the police,” he said.

The arrests on Friday – details of which were released on Tuesday – followed a R50m drug bust at the airport. National police spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said the consignment of cocaine, weighing about 143kg, was one of the largest drug recoveries at a South African port of entry.

“The drugs were hidden in 147 hair products bottles and were found during a routine inspection at the cargo section. The consignment arrived from Brazil, and information displayed on the cargo indicated it was in transit to Cotonou, Benin, in West Africa,” he said.

Other drug busts at OR Tambo over the past month include:

  • The confiscation of 60 000 Viagra tablets with a street value of R6m at the airport’s mailing centre.
  • Cocaine weighing 3.46kg and valued at R993 020, found in the backpack of a passenger in transit from Sao Paulo and headed for Lagos, Nigeria.
  • Sixty-five packages of crystal meth valued at R4.2m, confiscated while being loaded into a bakkie in the cargo area.
  • Heroin valued at R201 810 destined for Spain and Ireland, discovered along with 2kg of cannabis at the airport’s mailing centre.

Source: The Star

Vietnam Custom ivory seizureCustoms officers in central Vietnam have seized a tonne of ivory and four tonnes of the scaly hide of the pangolin, according to authorities today.

Officials found the contraband on Tuesday inside a shipping container labelled as carrying red beans from Malaysia that arrived at the central port city of Da Nang on Aug 10.

“This is the largest amount of ivory and pangolin smuggling we have discovered in Da Nang,” Dang Van Toan, the port’s head of customs, told the German Press Agency.

The pangolin is an endangered type of armoured anteater found in parts of Asia and Africa. The flesh is sold as an exclusive, but illegal, meat, and the hide is used for traditional medicine and fashion.

The weight of the hides found this week corresponds to around 4,000 individuals, Le Xuan Canh, former head of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, told DPA. Tuesday’s haul brings to nearly eight tonnes the total of tusks, horns and hide from endangered species impounded over the past two weeks in Da Nang.

Last Friday the port’s customs officers seized more than two tonnes of elephant tusks. Eight days earlier they confiscated nearly a tonne of elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns, authorities said.

The three shipments were posted to two local companies, which have denied any knowledge of the smuggling, said Pham Van Thieng, deputy head of the central region’s anti-smuggling team.

Trafficking of endangered species and their parts violates international law. Like elephant ivory and rhino horn, pangolin is considered a sign of status among some of Vietnam’s wealthy elite.

Picasso, Head of a Young WomanA painting by Pablo Picasso estimated at more than €25 million (CHF26.5 million) and considered “unexportable” by the Spanish authorities has been seized by French customs officials on a boat moored in the French island of Corsica.

“An attempt to export to Switzerland a picture by Picasso, Head of a Young Woman, through the customs office of Bastia [a town in Corsica] last Thursday attracted the attention of French officials,” customs agents said in a statement to French news agency AFP on Tuesday.

On Friday, customs officials from the Corsican town of Calvi “boarded the ship which was moored in the marina at Calvi and demanded the documents relating to the painting which it was transporting”. According to the statement, the captain was able to produce only one document assessing the painting plus a ruling, in Spanish, from May 2015 made by the Audienca Nacional, a Spanish high court which has jurisdiction over all Spanish territory and international crimes which come under the competence of Spanish courts. This ruling confirmed that the painting was a Spanish national treasure which could never leave Spain. Source: CustomsToday

A man who used pet cats as a cover to smuggle drugs valued at £1.2m into the country through Heathrow Airport has been jailed. A London-born dual national, Scott Parker, living in Benoni, Gauteng in South Africa, was handed a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence for smuggling heroin, when he appeared at Isleworth Crown Court on June 18, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The 43-year-old, who worked for a company which transports animals, pleaded guilty to attempting to import a class A drug, the NCA added.

He was arrested by the NCA on November 21 last year, at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre, after staff alerted the Border Force of a crate used to transport animals from Johannesburg which was unusually heavy when empty.

Officers examined the crates and found compartments containing packages of the class A drug in the base, the NCA said. Forensic tests showed the packages consisted of around 9k of high purity heroin, which if cut and sold in the UK would have a street vale of around £1.2m.

The cats were reunited with their owners, who were completely unaware their animals had been used as a front for smuggling.
Ian Truby, from the NCA’s Border Investigation Team at Heathrow, said: “This was a highly unusual attempt to bring a substantial quantity of class A drugs into the UK.

“Parker thought he would avoid our attention. But the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre staff were vigilant and our investigation showed that he knew the drugs were there. Source: Customs Today

Illicit IvoryFrench customs officials said they had intercepted 136 kilos of ivory shipped from the Democratic Republic of Congo en route to Vietnam — the biggest haul in nearly a decade.

Officials at Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport found a dozen elephant tusks chopped into 37 pieces hidden in cases under aluminium plates, possibly to confuse scanners.

The haul is the biggest seized by French customs officials since December 2006, when 600 kilos of “white gold” was uncovered.

“This is a sadly typical case,” said airport customs official Sebastien Tiran. There’s one thing that never goes out of fashion and that’s ivory,” he told AFP.

There were “several criteria” that alerted officials to the possibility of smuggling, he explained. “The route, what is declared, documents linked to the declaration.”

Ivory ornaments are coveted in Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China, and activists say Africa’s wild elephants are being pushed to extinction by the trade. Source: Customs Today

Namibian police inspect over 1,000 boxes of impounded cigarettes at a roadblock in Rundu [Coastweek]

Namibian police inspect over 1,000 boxes of impounded cigarettes at a roadblock in Rundu [Coastweek]

Two suspects have appeared in a Namibian regional court Monday in connection with more than 1,000 cartons of cigarettes confiscated by the police Thursday last week.The two, both said to be Zimbabweans, appeared before a Rundu Magistrate in the northern Kavango region after their arrest over the 11.3 million Namibian dollars (940,000 U.S. dollars) cigarette contraband destined for South Africa.

The two were each charged with two counts of contravening the Custom and Excise Act 20 of 1998 and non-declaration of goods upon entering Namibia as well as the Prevention of Organized Crime Act 29 of 2004 of money laundering.

The accused persons were not asked to plead and their case was then postponed to July 8 for further police investigation. Acting on a tip-off, customs officials and the police raided two trucks en-route to South Africa and discovered 1,130 boxes that were hidden in fuel tankers. Source: http://www.spyghana.com/

Cigarettes+XXX+smokingRampant cigarette smuggling isn’t the problem in New York–“sky-high” tobacco taxes are, according to an op-ed by Patrick M. Gleason, director of state affairs at Americans for Tax Reform, in The Wall Street Journal.

Gleason’s opinion piece, titled “A Laffer Curve for Smokes,” digested here, takes the city and state of New York to task for their $180-million lawsuit against UPS over what officials allege was unlawful delivery of nearly 700,000 cartons of cigarettes. (A Laffer curve, named for economist Arthur Laffer, shows the relationship between rates of taxation and levels of government revenue.)

“This misguided lawsuit demonstrates once again that too many in government do not understand the root cause of cigarette smuggling. New York state levies the highest cigarette tax in the nation, $4.35 per pack, and New York City tacks on an additional $1.50 local tax. All told, the cost of one pack there can run to $12 or more.

“The result? Most of the cigarettes smoked in New York, 58%, are smuggled in from out of state, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. The higher that revenue-hungry politicians raise tobacco taxes, the more profit smugglers can make.

“Politicians never learn. Of the 32 state tobacco tax increases that went into effect between 2009 and 2013, only three met or exceeded revenue projections, according to industry data.

“Lawmakers can claim they’re raising taxes on cigarettes to reduce smoking and improve public health. That talking point is belied by the recent imposition of taxes on electronic cigarettes, which are saving lives by delivering nicotine in puffs of water vapor instead of chemical-filled smoke. There are more than 15 tax bills pending across the country for currently untaxed e-cigarettes. Hawaii is proposing a tax of 80%, New York of 75%, Oregon of 65% and Ohio of 60%.

“For politicians, cigarette taxes are—and have always been—about one thing: money.

“New York state officials claim that the cigarette smuggling via UPS cost the treasury $29.7 million in lost tax revenue. That’s less than 0.03% of the state budget. The $4.7 million allegedly lost by New York City represents less than 0.006% of its budget.

“For a mere rounding error, state and city officials want to grab $180 million from UPS. That’s $180 million UPS could use to hire new workers, give employees raises, or invest back into its business. The leaders of New York and New York City should drop this silly lawsuit and find a more productive use of their time.”

Click here to view the full Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

cigarettes1Three Zimbabweans and a South African were arrested in Limpopo province for allegedly teaming up and smuggling cigarettes worth $200,000 into the neighbouring country. The Zimbabwean trio, Takuzo Mutswiro, 22, Tatenda Nyamhunga, 31, Joseph Mhembwe, 27 and Gilbert Mamburu, 54, a South African from Tshiozwi village in Limpopo province, were arrested last week at Tshilwavhusiku near Thohoyandou after police intercepted a truck they were using to transport the cigarettes.

Limpopo provincial spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto, in a statement, said police followed up on information they received about suspicious activities at Mamburu’s house. Upon arrival at the scene, the three Zimbabweans attempted to run away, but were apprehended. Cigarettes with an estimated value of more than R2 million were found hidden in a small truck as well as a light delivery truck. It is suspected the cigarettes were smuggled from Zimbabwe, however their origin and destination is still being investigated.

Lately there has been an increase in the number of cigarette smugglers being arrested in the neighbouring country. Some of the cigarettes are smuggled out of the country through undesignated entry points along the crocodile-infested Limpopo River while others find their way into South Africa through Beitbridge Border Post despite the presence of Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) scanners.The machines are able to detect concealed goods hidden in sealed containers.

The South Africa reportedly charges high rates on cigarette imports, which has resulted in a marked increase in cases of smuggling between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Most of these cigarettes are repackaged when they get to South Africa before being shipped to either Europe or Asia.

According to the South African Revenue Services (SARS), Beitbridge Border Post accounts for 70 percent of the cigarettes which are smuggled into that country. A recent statement from the South African Police Service said cigarette smuggling from Zimbabwe was being prioritised after it emerged the country supplied 55 to 70 percent of the 10 billion cigarettes reaching the neighbouring country’s black market. Source: The Chronical (Zimbabwe) & Customstoday.com

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture - Carl de Souza - AFP]

A Kenya Wildlife Services officer stands near a burning pile of 15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Kenya at Nairobi National Park [Picture – Carl de Souza – AFP]

Revenue officials unload the Shingle at Dublin Port after 32 million cigarettes were seized [Picture: Irish Mirror]

Revenue officials unload the Shingle at Dublin Port after 32 million cigarettes were seized [Picture: Irish Mirror]

Customs officers have scored a major victory in the battle against smugglers after seizing 50 million cigarettes in 10 months.

The Irish Mirror reports Revenue officers made 5,025 separate swoops between January and the end of October.

They also impounded 9,560kgs of tobacco in 867 operations.

The record haul makes 2014 one of the most successful to date in the war on counterfeit tobacco.

While these smuggled cigarettes would have cost the Exchequer tens of millions of euro they’re also more dangerous for smokers’ health.

And with the huge crackdown, Customs officers will be keeping up the pressure in 2015 to stub out the tobacco black market.

A Revenue spokeswoman told the Irish Mirror: “To the end of October, more than 50 million cigarettes were seized in 5,025 separate seizures while 9,560 kilogrammes of tobacco were seized in 867 seizures.

“This includes a major seizure in Drogheda in June in which officers, supported by An Garda Siochana, seized more than 32 million cigarettes and 4,500kg of water pipe tobacco.

“Combatting the illegal tobacco trade is, and will continue to be, a high priority for Revenue.

“Our work against this illegal activity includes a range of measures designed to identify and target those engaged in the supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to seizing them and prosecuting those responsible.”

Customs officials use tactics including risk analysis, profiling, intelligence and screening of cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages.

They also carry out random checks at retail outlets, markets and commercial shops.

The spokeswoman said: “This includes analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis.

“It also includes use of analytics and detection technologies and ensures optimum deployment of resources at points of importation.

“Revenue co-operates extensively with An Garda Siochana in combating the illicit trade, and relevant agencies in the State also work closely with their counterparts in the North, through a cross-border group on tobacco enforcement, to target organised crime groups responsible for a large proportion of the illegal tobacco market.

“In addition, cooperation takes place with other revenue administrations and with the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, in the on-going programmes at international level.”

Last week, Last week, routine profiling helped customs officers seize 600,000 cigarettes at Dublin Port with a retail value of €304,000. Source: Irish Mirror

Kenya Heroin Seizure [www.maritime-executive.com]

Kenya Heroin Seizure [www.maritime-executive.com]

Nine foreign nationals were charged in a Kenyan court with trafficking the biggest ever single seizure of drugs at the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa.

There has been a surge in the volume of heroin trafficked through east Africa in recent years, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says, with east Africa’s biggest port of Mombasa cited as a transit point for narcotics and other contraband.

The suspects, who included six Pakistanis, two Indians and an Iranian, denied trafficking the heroin and were detained until November when their trial will begin.

Prosecutors told the court on Thursday that the 377.2 kg drug haul had a market value of 1.1 billion shillings ($12.54 million). Police also found 33,200 liters of liquid heroin whose value is yet to be established.

If convicted, the suspects face life imprisonment or a fine worth three times the value of the heroin, or both, a Mombasa-based lawyer told Reuters. The drug is typically transported from Pakistan and Iran to east Africa, known for its porous borders and weak maritime surveillance, and onwards to Europe.

They accused were arrested in Kenyan territorial waters in early July on board MV Bushehr Amin Darya, a stateless vessel, which was towed into the port of Mombasa, and police found the heroin hidden in the ship’s diesel tank.

Kenyan police said they were communicating with India, Pakistan and Iran to find the owners of the vessel, which they said was headed for Mombasa at the time it was intercepted.

An Australian warship seized a dhow in Kenyan waters with more than a tonne of heroin worth $268 million in April. Source: Reuters

OLAFAlmost 45 million smuggled cigarettes, nearly 140.000 litres of diesel fuel and about 14.000 litres of vodka were seized during a major Joint Customs Operation (JCO). The Operation code-named “Warehouse” was carried-out in October 2013 by the Lithuanian Customs Service and the Lithuanian Tax Inspectorate in close cooperation with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), and with the participation of all 28 EU member states. As a result of Operation “Warehouse”, a significant potential loss to the budgets of the European Union and its Member States was prevented. According to preliminary estimates, this would have amounted to about € 9 million in the form of evaded customs duties and taxes. The final results of the Operation were discussed by the participants last week at a debriefing meeting in Vilnius and were made public today across Europe.

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for taxation, customs, anti-fraud and audit, welcomed the very good results of the operation. “The fight against the smuggling of excise goods is one of our political priorities and we have launched a number of initiatives to better equip Europe against such harmful practices being run by organised criminal networks. JCO Warehouse is a good example of how the EU and Member States’ authorities can cooperate effectively to protect their revenue. Joint Customs Operations safeguard the EU’s financial interests and also protect our citizens and legitimate businesses”, he said. “Such Operations also highlight the added-value of OLAF in helping facilitate the exchange of information between our partners across Europe and in providing effective operational support.”

Operation “Warehouse” focused on cargo movement by road transport. It targeted the smuggling and other forms of illegal trade of excise goods such as mineral oil, tobacco products and alcohol throughout Europe. By using several complex scenarios in multiple EU Member States, fraudsters lawfully import goods into the EU but request a VAT and excise exemption by declaring the goods as subject to tax and duty exemption regimes (e.g. declaring the goods to be in transit). The trace of the goods is then lost through the fictitious disappearance of the traders or through a fictitious export. Fraudsters avoid paying VAT and excise duties, but the goods remain in the internal market, causing a substantial loss to the EU’s and Member States’ revenues.

JCO “Warehouse” was the first Operation carried-out in close cooperation with tax authorities to target excise and VAT fraud specifically, besides customs fraud. For the first time, customs and tax authorities cooperated on a European scale in a JCO. This is a significant achievement since the different competences and legal regimes applicable at national and EU level make it difficult to address complex fraud schemes with uniform measures. In this Operation, customs and tax authorities joined their expertise, resources and shared intelligence to prevent losses to the EU’s and Member States’ budget.

Eight seizures were made during the Operation. Among these, authorities seized 6.617.400 cigarettes in Sweden and Lithuania; 135.831 litres of diesel in Poland and the United Kingdom, and 14.025,6 litres of vodka in United Kingdom alone. Overall, 44.957.160 cigarettes were seized.

During the entire Operation “Warehouse”, OLAF provided organisational, logistical, financial and technical support to allow for an exchange of information and intelligence in real-time. This was coordinated from the Physical Operational Coordination Unit (P-OCU) at the OLAF premises in Brussels which facilitated direct communication with the national contact points. A group of liaison officers from some Member States representing all the participating 28 EU countries, worked from here during the Operation and experts from the Commission’s Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union provided support.

EUROPOL participated as an observer in the Operation. A representative of the office was present at the P-OCU during the operational phase of the operation. It was also possible to make direct cross-checks of suspect individuals and companies appearing during the JCO with EUROPOL via a secure internet connection. Source: EU Commission

UNODC Anti-Counterfeit ImageThe World Customs Organization (WCO) welcomes the new global campaign launched by the United Nations (UN), under the auspices of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to raise awareness among consumers on the dangers of counterfeit goods and their link to organized crime.

The campaign – ‘Counterfeit: Don’t buy into organized crime’ – is centred around a Public Service Announcement, entitled ‘Look Behind(click hyperlink to view), which will be shown on the NASDAQ screen in New York’s Times Square and will be aired on several international television stations, starting from 14 January.

With the aim of urging consumers to consider who and what lie behind the production of counterfeit goods, the campaign is a bid to boost understanding of the multi-faceted repercussions of this illicit trade, which according to the UNODC is worth 250 billion US dollars a year.

UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, noted that, “In comparison to other crimes such as drug trafficking, the production and distribution of counterfeit goods present a low-risk/high-profit opportunity for criminals.”

Fedotov further noted that, “Counterfeiting feeds money laundering activities and encourages corruption, and there is also evidence of some involvement or overlap with drug trafficking and other serious crimes.”

Counterfeiting is a crime that affects us all, from exploited labour being used to produce counterfeits, through to the harmful and potentially deadly dangers attached to these goods, and the links that these illicit goods have in potentially funding cross-border criminal and organized crime activities.

“With a long history of fighting counterfeiting and piracy at the national, regional and international level, the global Customs community is ready to support its United Nations partners in their efforts to raise awareness about this illicit trade activity,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya.

Mikuriya further stressed that, “The WCO is firmly committed to countering the relentless attack on consumers by criminals involved in counterfeiting, as their illicit and even dangerous goods which are flooding markets across the globe pose a huge risk to public health and safety.”

Fraudulent medicines also present a serious health risk to consumers, as criminal activity in this area is big business, with the UNODC reporting that the sale of fraudulent medicines from East Asia and the Pacific to South-East Asia and Africa alone amounts to some 5 billion US dollars per year.

Criminals use similar routes and modi operandi to move counterfeit goods as they do to smuggle illicit drugs, firearms and people; in 2013, the joint UNODC/WCO Container Control Programme detected counterfeit goods in more than one-third of all seized maritime containers.

The WCO expends enormous resources on combating the counterfeit trade using a variety of means, including the organization of global enforcement operations and the introduction of IPM, a WCO tool which promotes cooperation and the sharing of information between Customs and rights holders.

Of particular relevance to the campaign is the WCO’s theme for 2014 which highlights the importance of communication and the sharing of information for better cooperation, which is highly instrumental in the fight against counterfeits in tandem with the Organization’s public and private sector partners.

Concluding, Secretary General Mikuriya took the opportunity to commend the UNODC on its latest initiative, offered his full support for the UN campaign, and urged WCO Members and Customs’ stakeholders to continue raising awareness about the perils of buying and trading counterfeit goods. For more information visit the WCO Website. Source: WCO

Pacific Blue_SnapseedRelatives of President Robert Mugabe are being linked to illegal tobacco smuggling networks suspected of bringing more than $48 million in contraband through South Africa’s borders, reports NewZimbabwe.com.

Harare-based Savanna Tobacco is owned by a prominent Zimbabwean businessman, Adam Molai, who is married to Sandra Mugabe, one of Mugabe’s nieces. Molai has previously worked with Sandra as co-director of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Growing Company. Savanna has allegedly moved tons of illegal tobacco into South Africa.

The company’s main brand, Pacific cigarettes, has been found in concealed consignments by police in South Africa and abroad, according to two private investigators who track tobacco busts and work for the industry to counter the trade in illicit tobacco. The products have been linked to a huge tobacco smuggling operation whose base in South Africa was shut down in 2010 by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), which is engaged in a crackdown on the country’s illegal tobacco markets.

Images taken at the scene of two busts in South Africa and one in Zimbabwe show the extent of the smuggling operation. SARS has refused to confirm or deny whether it is investigating Savanna, citing the confidentiality requirements of the Tax Administration Act.

The frequency of the busts, the methods used and the quantities of illegal Pacific cigarettes found have led sources close to the investigations to claim that Savanna has been centrally involved for at least four years. It also increases suspicions that Zimbabwe is using smuggling to keep its economy afloat. Mugabe has openly supported Savanna. A year ago, he accused rival British American Tobacco (BAT) of spying on Savanna and hijacking its trucks. “If this is what you are doing in order to kill competition and you do it in a bad way, somebody will answer for it,” Mugabe warned.

Boxes of cigarettes that can be made for as little as R1.50 are easy to slip into the local market to avoid the R13 tax a box. Whereas popular brands of cigarettes can retail at R35 a pack, illegal cigarettes sell for between R4 and R12 a pack. With margins approaching 1000%, the illicit trade has become one of the largest elements in organised crime in South Africa.

According to research commissioned by the Tobacco Institute of South Africa, which is predominantly funded by BAT, 9.5billion illegal cigarettes with a street value of about R4-billion were smoked locally last year.

Savanna has captured almost 10% of this market, according to the institute, with about 700 million of its illegal cigarettes smoked last year. Pacific’s illegal cigarettes are sold mostly on the streets of Cape Town.

In one of the biggest busts in October, 1.6million Pacific cigarettes were found hidden on a train in Plumtree. Pacific cigarettes have also been seized at the Beitbridge border post near Musina and in Boksburg, on the East Rand, during busts in November. Trucks were found carrying Pacific cigarettes in concealed compartments.

This month, a consignment of Pacific cigarettes was found hidden behind electronic goods on a truck in the Western Cape. Similar busts have been made in Mozambique and at a border post between Zambia and Namibia, according to private investigators.

Evidence from the Plumtree train bust showed that the smuggling route had its origin as Savanna’s factory in Zimbabwe and South Africa’s black market as its destination. In the Plumtree bust on October 12, Zimbabwean police confiscated 40 tons of illicit Pacific cigarettes that had come from Bulawayo. The train was said to be carrying gum poles.

Records reveal that between September 2012 and August 2013 at least 23 shipments with 44 wagons of “gum poles” had followed the same route. A number of these consignments appear to have arrived at the South African business PFC Integration. According to an investigator who has studied the operation, PFC is “not into the gum pole business at all”.