Cheers! Diplomats bust selling duty-free booze given 72 hours to leave SA

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  • SA declared several diplomats persona non grata for engaging in the illicit trade of duty-free alcohol.
  • The diplomatic staff members and their families have 72 hours to leave the country.
  • The illicit sale of alcohol cheated the taxman out of R100 million a month.

South Africa has thrown out Malawian diplomats over the selling of duty-free alcohol, following the expulsion of 12 Lesotho diplomats. 

The diplomats from the two countries were given 72 hours to leave the country after government uncovered an illicit alcohol trade racket, where foreign diplomats abused their diplomatic privileges and sold duty-free alcohol for extra cash.

In a press release on Friday, the Malawian Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would take action against its diplomats.

"The government of Malawi wishes to inform the public that the Malawi government has since conveyed its regret to the Republic of South Africa on the conduct of the concerned diplomats.

"The government of Malawi will take appropriate actions against the diplomats upon their return. Meanwhile, the Ministry has put in place appropriate measures to ensure continuity of operations of the Mission in Pretoria."

South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said on Friday that several foreign diplomats had been declared "persona non-grata" and stripped of their diplomatic status following an intensive investigation into the flouting of diplomatic privileges.

The decision was taken in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961, it said. 

"The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without the threat of influence by the host government," said Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela.

"However, in instances where such privileges are abused, the host country is obliged to take the necessary action in line with the convention," Monyela added.

On Thursday, Lesotho said several of its diplomats had been expelled from South Africa over the illicit peddling of duty-free alcohol.

Prior to their expulsion, the SA Revenue Service (SARS) uncovered a tax-dodging racket, in which the diplomats would buy large volumes of alcohol at duty-free retailers, and then sell it locally.

According to SARS, the scheme cheated the tax collector of an estimated R100 million a month.

READ | SARS busts diplomats for allegedly selling illicit alcohol, cheating taxman out of R100m per month

Monyela added that the government had given the affected diplomatic staff members and their families 72 hours to leave South Africa. They are also expected to relinquish their diplomatic status by returning to Dirco all the necessary "diplomatic tools".

Dirco said investigations of similar transgressions by other missions accredited to South Africa are at an advanced stage and similar action will be taken, should they be found guilty. 

"Accordingly, the South African government calls upon all diplomatic missions, accredited to the Republic, to respect, uphold and comply with all the laws of the land, including adherence with the prescripts of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961," Monyela said. 

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