Stolen vehicles’ easy crossing

2014-12-17 00:00

HUNDREDS of illegal vehicles continue to be transported through KwaZulu-Natal’s porous border with Mozambique.

According to an official report presented to police commissioner General Riah Phiyega last year and which sister paper Beeld has seen, at least 293 illegal vehicles were taken to ­Mozambique across the KZN border in 2011. A year later that figure increased by 34% to 394 vehicles, stated the report.

The report only mentioned vehicles that were definitely taken across the border. Many more are being smuggled without the knowledge of the police.

As a result of police corruption, stolen vehicles are running “like water” through the ­Lebombo border between Mpumalanga and Mozambique.

“There are just too many holes,” said a ­senior defence force member.

Members of the police’s vehicle unit are paid R120 000 to “escort [a truck] across the border” and R5 000 for a car, two independent sources have told Beeld.

One of the sources is a police contact who has infiltrated one of the syndicates.

The looting of vehicles is a lucrative form of illicit trafficking, which costs the country an estimated R8 billion annually, said Lieb Liebenberg of the South African Insurance Bureau (SAIB).

“The SAIB together with Business Against Crime estimated about five years ago that ­approximately 30% of stolen or hijacked ­vehicles [or 64 per day] have been moved across the country’s borders.”

Only a fraction of the vehicles are recovered and repatriated.

Broken border fencing, corruption at border posts, thugs who bribe members of the defence force and local vehicle units, as well as the absence of an extradition agreement with Mozambique are some of the problems that paralyse policing, said members of the local policing agencies and farmers.

The main smuggling routes run from ­Gauteng to the Lebombo border in Mpumalanga and the Kosi Bay border post in KwaZulu-Natal.

Two alleged vehicle thieves appeared in the Tonga Magistrate’s Court in Mpumalanga on Friday after they were arrested by police at Kaapmuiden and Tonga with two vehicles in their possession. (How it is done: page 4)

One of them, Jabulani Mntambu, had already been arrested twice on the same charges but granted bail.

“We suspect irregularities. It does not make sense to be arrested and granted bail on so many occasions for the same crime,” said police spokesperson Lietutenant-General Solomon Makgale.

In 2011, the DA requested an investigation and report be done by the auditor-general into border control security, the findings of which revealed a “massive epidemic of crime” at border posts, which the DA believes is still prevalent.

Shadow minister of police, Diane Kohler Barnard, said the switching of control over border posts between the police and South African National Defence Force crippled ­security allowing for almost anyone to cross borders undetected.

“It only takes three seconds for a stolen vehicle’s registration number to be logged into the police system. Officials are poorly trained and not doing correct checks on vehicles entering and exiting the country. Even checking of passports is not done properly and if cash is found in the passport, there is no doubt that officials are turning a blind eye,” she said.

Kohler Barnard said that from “cleaners” to “people at the top”, border posts were ­corrupt.

It is estimated that around 1,8 million people pass through South Africa’s land borders every year. In 2009, the SANDF took back control over South African borders from the SAPS and Kohler Barnard said since then, ­facilities were “trashed”, needed ­renovations and were 71% under capacity when they took over.

“The transitions have caused major issues in the efficiency of border posts. What is surprising is that stolen vehicles are able to make it to the border. If a stolen vehicle is logged within seconds, police should be able to track the vehicle within a short period of time,” she said.

She said when a vehicle was found across a South African border, it was harder for the South African owner of the vehicle to retrieve it. There were often cases where owners were, after months, forced to drive their vehicles back from impounds in other countries, she said.

“There is clearly a breakdown in communication with officials from other countries when dealing with stolen vehicles.”

• Additional reporting by Kyle Venktess

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