PMB a hub for cig smuggling

2015-07-04 08:44

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SMOKERS beware. Police intelligence has revealed that a national cigarette smuggling ring that operates between Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg may be behind the boom of contraband in some parts of the province.

According to police sources, the main flow of illicit cigarettes starts from the borders and makes its way into Johannesburg, after which they are distributed throughout the country.

A police source told Weekend Witness that a major distribution syndicate exists between Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg.

This syndicate is allegedly responsible for the boom of illicit cigarettes in Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas.

According to the source, intelligence has shown that a major national trucking company hauls the cigarettes from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg where they are then handed over to a syndicate boss, who allegedly owns a flourishing car dealership in the city.

The cigarettes are then handed over to a “distributor” said to be of Pakistani nationality who in turn dispenses the cigarettes to buyers across the city.

Most of the buyers are said to be shop owners in and around the city.

So far the syndicate members have managed to evade capture.

The smuggling and trade of illicit cigarettes came under the public spotlight last week when The Witness reported that more than 500 000 sticks of counterfeit cigarettes had been recovered in the province by police in various operations since the beginning of the year.

Weekend Witness yesterday consulted with various experts in the tobacco industry as well as sources in the police and other units to pin down where illegal cigarettes come from and how they are smuggled into the country.

According to associate professor at the University of Cape Town’s school of economics and head of the school’s economics of tobacco control project, Cornelis van Walbeek, the smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes into the country is still a reality for South Africa.

Van Walbeek said two of the main smuggling routes for illegal cigarettes into KwaZulu-Natal are through the port of Durban and across the country’s inland borders.

“Via the ports, the cigarettes arrive in container ships from China and the United Arab Emirates mainly,” Van Walbeek said.

Inland, smugglers bring the cigarettes into South Africa through borders with Zimbabwe, from where it is said that more than 50% of counterfeit cigarettes come.

Other countries include Dubai, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.

Tobacco Institute of South Africa (Tisa) CEO Francois van der Merwe said the challenges related to the illicit cigarette trade in South Africa are not confined to one province and that it is a national, regional and global challenge.

“The main external sources currently are manufacturers in Zimbabwe (30%) and Botswana (five percent), utilising complex illegal supply chains and concealment methods. These products enter through porous borders with both ­Zimbabwe and Botswana.”

ACCORDING to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa), South Africa is rated among the top five countries globally with the highest incidence of trade in illegal cigarettes.

• In 2013, an estimated 31% of all cigarettes consumed in South Africa were illicit. This equalled eight billion sticks.

• In 2014, this number was around 23%, or more than five billion sticks.

• In 2015, this number is around 23%, or more than two billion sticks.

In terms of impact on the fiscus, more than R22 billion in tax revenue has been lost to the illicit cigarette trade since 2010, which is roughly R5 billion per year

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  smuggling

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