SARS crushes another R17 million worth of illegal smokes

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SARS Customs had recently established the National Rapid Response Team (NRRT) in an effort to complement front-line operations.
SARS Customs had recently established the National Rapid Response Team (NRRT) in an effort to complement front-line operations.
  • Joint efforts by a recently established rapid response unit of SARS and front-line operations units are bearing fruit.
  • On Tuesday SARS in Pretoria started with the destruction of illicit cigarettes worth R17.4 million.
  • This follows on the destruction of illicit cigarettes worth more than R30 million earlier this month.

The SA Revenue Service (SARS) in Pretoria kicked off the destruction of illicit cigarettes worth a possible total of R17.4 million on Tuesday.

The cigarettes were either imported or manufactured in the country illegally, in contravention of customs and excise legislation.

SARS Customs recently established the National Rapid Response Team (NRRT) to tackle what it considers major areas of risk. 

Earlier this month, customs officials at Beitbridge, supported by SAPS and the SA National Defence Force, began to destroy previously seized illicit cigarettes with a total value of more than R30 million. The machinery used to destroy the cigarettes finely crushes them and they are then buried at a landfill site.

Most illicit cigarette seizures occurred at Beitbridge, Groblers Bridge, Kopfontein, Lebombo and Skilpadshek border posts.

Customs data shows there were 1 150 seizures, equating to 181 668 974 sticks of cigarettes, in the 2020/2021 financial year, with an estimated value of R219.8 million. This amounted to a potential loss in duties and VAT estimated at over R163 million.

This was more than a 100% increase compared to the previous financial year, which yielded 445 seizures with a value of R103.5 million. 

According to Beyers Theron, director: customs border operations, ports of entry and customs compliance at SARS, illicit imports reduce the revenue the country collects - revenue which is needed for government to provide basic services.

"It destroys local industries, leading to factory closures, job losses and further erosion of the tax base," Theron said in a statement.

The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) said it was shocked that members of the SA National Defence Force were arrested for allegedly transporting illicit cigarettes in a military vehicle.

"As an organisation we have long been vocal about corrupt law enforcement agents and officials at our border posts who play a substantial role in the smuggling of illicit cigarettes via our various border posts," FITA chair Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said in a statement. 

"The latest incident, as shocking as it is, affirms our long-held view that the criminal syndicates behind the rampant smuggling of cigarettes into the country can only succeed with the help of corrupt law enforcement agents."

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