City police make illegal tobacco haul

2018-07-13 16:31
Pietermaritzburg Rapid Response Unit’s Sergeant Gift Bhengu holds up some of the cartons of illicit cigarettes after a tip-off they received led them to a van carrying the cigarettes on the N3 on Thursday.

Pietermaritzburg Rapid Response Unit’s Sergeant Gift Bhengu holds up some of the cartons of illicit cigarettes after a tip-off they received led them to a van carrying the cigarettes on the N3 on Thursday. (Ian Carbutt)

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A man transporting illicit cigarettes worth R1,5 million was arrested on Thursday after he was caught on the N3 by members of the Pietermaritzburg Rapid Response Unit and Crime Intelligence.

The vehicle was stopped near the New England Road off-ramp.

Illicit cigarette traders have been described recently as “a direct threat to thousands of jobs in several industries including the tobacco industry” by the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu).

Last week Fin24 reported that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) will lose over R7 billion this year as a result of the illicit tobacco trade.

In a major breakthrough for the Pietermaritzburg Rapid Response Unit and Crime Intelligence, a tip-off on Thursday led the team to a van travelling towards Durban on the N3.

Police stopped the vehicle and found the back stacked with various electrical appliances such as irons, microwaves and kettles. However, once the police had pulled several of the appliance boxes out of the vehicle, they discovered boxes upon boxes containing allegedly illicit cigarettes.

It was reported that each box held 50 cartons of cigarettes and that the total estimated street value is at least R1,5 million.

Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese said the appliances found in the van were also being investigated to see if they are linked to any housebreaking cases.

The arrested man is expected to appear in court soon.

It was reported by City Press last week that major tobacco companies had accused three smaller companies of making R5 billion in illegal cigarette sales a year, as well as avoiding annual taxes of up to R7 billion.

The Tobacco Institute of South Africa (Tisa) released a new research report last week that claimed to make the best estimate yet of the size of the illicit cigarette trade in South Africa.

It came up with a shocking eight billion cigarettes a year. This was about 400 million packs of 20 cigarettes, it was reported.

The report named three companies as being the main culprits.

Those companies’ representatives, however, subsequently denied wrongdoing and their lawyers said the Tisa report was “replete with inaccuracies”.

The report counts any pack of 20 cigarettes selling for less than R17,85 as “illicit” or “untaxed”.

The City Press reported that the reason for this is that anyone selling cigarettes for less than the tax on those cigarettes, let alone the cost of production, must be dodging tax.

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