Import scam: owners’ cars to be crushed

2013-01-29 00:00

PORT ELIZABETH — A routine vehicle inspection a week ago caused tears this week for more than two dozen people in the Eastern Cape, who had all unwittingly bought illegally imported cars from a Durban man.

Officers from the Grahamstown highway patrol unit smelt something fishy on January 22 and arrested a 57-year-old man from Durban who had 36,4 kg abalone in his Mazda MX5.

The man had a previous arrest for illegally possessing abalone in 2008, that time with 200 kg in his possession. He is still in custody.

Officers suspected that his car, which had a Swaziland registration, was an illegal import. They impounded the vehicle and called customs. It turned out that the man had sold more than two dozen illegally imported vehicles to unsuspecting people in the Eastern Cape.

Twenty-six vehicles have now all been impounded and will be crushed, “tyres and all”.

Warrant Officer Pit van Zyl, who investigated the case, said the victims of the illegally imported vehicles had lost about R1 million between them.

“The people are in tears when we confiscate [the cars],” said Lesley Loubser, commanding officer of the South African Revenue Service investigation unit in Port Elizabeth.

He explained that SA law forbade the import and sale of used models from overseas. Unless owners had a SAD500 customs form in the vehicle that showed they met the criteria that allowed importing of used cars from overseas, the vehicles would be confiscated and crushed.

Loubser said the SAD500 form had to be in the vehicle at all times and only the buyer whose name appeared on the form could drive the vehicle.

The suspected abalone dealer from Durban did not have the required document in his “Swaziland sportscar”.

The man, who’s name is known to The Witness, is due to appear in a bail hearing at the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.

His fleet, which has been moved to the pound, includes a silver Mercedes SLK230 and some 40 other vehicles which have allegedly been sold to people in the Eastern Cape.

Van Zyl said the sale of imported used vehicles was declared illegal in SA in order to protect jobs in the local auto industry, but they could be sold in neighbouring countries. South Africans often tried to buy these so-called “gray imports” because it was typically up to 66% cheaper

He said most of the deals were on a cash basis and the buyers were often told they could register the vehicles in South Africa and get documentation for it. But the documents were either forged, or they never reached the buyer.

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