Sun. Jul 12th, 2020

Cigarette smugglers caught after high-speed chase in Limpopo

Dirt road diversions and dangerous highway antics involving illicit tobacco traders and Limpopo cops.

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Police continue to crack down on illicit cigarette smugglers and traders as government vows to keep the tobacco ban in place during Level 3 lockdown.

On Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that the prohibition of tobacco products, which was first instituted in late March, would be upheld when the country enters Level 3 lockdown on 1 June.

The cigarette ban, fiercely defended by Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been widely condemned by South African smokers and tax watchdogs alike. While the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) continues its legal fight to overturn the ban, the burgeoning black market maintains its grip on the cigarette supply chain.

Cigarette ban continues, despite serious tax losses

The illicit trade as a result of Disaster Management Act regulations, which has forced 11 million South African smokers to either go cold turkey or engage in criminal activity to feed their nicotine habit, is estimated to cost the economy in excess of R35 million a day. The exorbitant loss of uncollected excise duties has been condemned by economists and civil societies.

The South African Police Service (SAPS), tasked with upholding all lockdown regulations as stipulated in the Disaster Management Act, have redoubled efforts to curb the illicit production, transportation and distribution of cigarettes during lockdown. Recently, Police Minister Bheki Cele revealed that, with assistance from the National Defence Force (SANDF), lockdown law enforcement operations conducted along South Africa’s borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe had netted several high profile arrests and led to the confiscation of alcohol and tobacco worth almost R3 million.

Still, despite numerous arrests, the illicit trade — much of which involves cross-border smuggling — continues its exponential growth unabated.

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Image via Facebook: South African Police Service @SAPoliceService

Limpopo smugglers take cops for a ride

Over the weekend, two high-speed car chases, involving cops and cigarette smugglers, tore through the dusty back roads of Limpopo.

On Saturday evening, police conducting crime prevention operations in the vicinity of Modimolle attempted to stop a bakkie. A statement issued by SAPS detailed the chase and haul, explaining:

“The driver failed to stop and sped off in the direction of Bela Bela. A car chase then ensued and members contacted their colleagues in Bela Bela who quickly responded.

The bakkie was spotted and cornered at one of the intersections .The vehicle was found loaded with one thousand (1000) cartoons of illicit cigarettes. Three suspects aged between 28 and 42, were then arrested.”

On Sunday, traffic officers and SAPS personnel stationed at Sebayeng, north of Polokwane, were involved in a hot off-road pursuit which eventually led to the arrest of two Zimbabwean nationals found to be in possession of illicit cigarettes and alcohol. SAPS elaborated:

“Collaboration between Traffic Officers and the SAPS members attached to Sebayeng in the Mankweng Cluster, led to the arrest of two suspects after a prolonged car chase that commenced at Botlokwa on the N1 north of Polokwane.

After failing to stop when ordered to do so by traffic officers, the suspects apparently sped towards a gravel road that connects the N1 road and R81 from Polokwane. The officers pursuing the said vehicle, then called for a backup from the police at Sebayeng and this led to the suspects being cornered at the Solomondale intersection next to the filling station.”

SAPS added that all five suspects arrested would appear in Mankweng and Modimolle magistrate courts charged with possession of illegal cigarettes and transporting alcohol in contravention of the Disaster Management Act.

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