Illegal cigarettes valued at millions of rands seized and destroyed
Customs officers of the SARS last week scored several victories in the fight against the trade in illegal cigarettes with a search and seizure operation in three cities and a bust at the Kopfontein border post.
In Kempton Park, Pretoria and Johannesburg, 22 shops were raided, and illegal cigarettes valued at R2.4-million were seized. This was a joint operation between SARS Customs, the South African Police Service, The Department of Home Affairs and the Metro Police in Gauteng.
At the Kopfontein border post, customs officials searched a tanker, which had arrived from Botswana, and discovered three false compartments. The compartments were packed with 355 master cases of illegal cigarettes, valued at over R5.5 million. The truck and cigarettes were detained for further investigation.
At Beitbridge, customs officials supported by SAPS and the South African National Defence Force began to destroy illegal cigarettes from previous seizures valued at over R30 million at the state warehouse, with another destruction of illegal cigarettes planned to take place in Pretoria in two weeks.
Due to the volume of the illegal cigarettes, the Beitbridge destruction will continue for several days. The machinery used by SARS destroys the cigarettes in an environmentally friendly manner and the finely crushed cigarettes are then buried at a landfill site.
SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said the seizure and destruction of illegal cigarettes was an important signal of government’s commitment to root out the illegal trade in goods such as cigarettes, clothing and textiles, second-hand motor vehicles and scrap metal, amongst others.
“Whilst we are pleased with these successes, we still have a significant amount of work ahead in order to address this scourge of criminal behaviour, which distorts our domestic economy, erodes the tax base and destroys employment opportunities. We are also concerned about the lack of consistent standards and consequent health and other risks presented to consumers as a result of illicit goods and trade,” the Commissioner added.
A whole-of-government approach has been adopted to fight this illicit economy in cooperation with key stakeholders from the private sector. The illicit economy causes job losses, causes industries to close, creates public health problems, transport safety issues and the loss of lives.
“We make an appeal to consumers to be vigilant and avoid the temptation of the lower price these products often appear to offer in the short term, and to consider the long-term harm to themselves as well as the broader society.”
“Based on our legislative mandate, SARS is determined to make it hard and costly for any person who does not comply with their tax and customs obligations. Non-compliance by any person causes revenue losses which our country cannot afford.
“The revenue that SARS collects is important because it enables the state to provide basic services to the poor and vulnerable, such as old age grants, as well as medical care to persons affected by the devastating Covid-19 pandemic,” said the commissioner.
Customs officers also notched up several other impressive busts over the past week, including the following:
- On Wednesday 09 June 2021, officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) discovered 80kg of crystal methamphetamine valued at approximately R24m. The crystal meth was hidden in cargo declared as “sewing material” and destined for Israel via Istanbul. The case was handed over to the SAPS’ Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI).
- Also on 09 June 2021, officers searching in the cargo section at ORTIA discovered sexual enhancement medication, valued at approximately R45 220 000.00, which had been improperly declared. The goods were handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.
- On 03 June 2021, Customs officers and members of the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) were searching for suspicious cargo, which had arrived at ORTIA from Kenya, when they discovered a brown substance wrapped in foil and hidden in canisters. After testing, it was identified as a substance used as a precursor in the manufacture of mandrax. The substance, with an estimated value of R105.4m, could have led to the manufacture of 1 700,000 mandrax tablets. The goods were handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.
Story by: Riaan de Lange