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Media release – Joint operation nets illicit cigarettes worth millions

Media release – Joint operation nets illicit cigarettes worth millions

27 February 2023 – The South African Revenue Service’s National Customs Enforcement Team working together with the South African Police Service and South African Defence Force over the weekend of 25-26 February intercepted truckloads of illicit cigarettes, based on intelligence received.

This is part of ongoing efforts to enhance the effectiveness of Customs in combating illicit trade, particularly in tobacco and cigarette. The joint intervention took place in areas and farms along South Africa’s borders. These significant detections involving cross-border smuggling are as follows:

  • A total 1185 master cases of illicit cigarettes with brands of Remington Gold, Chelsea and Royal Express, worth millions, were detained.
  • Four people were arrested and criminal cases opened with regard to dealing in the smuggling of illicit cigarettes.
  • Further, 4 trucks, one bakkie and one tractor with a trailer, which were used to carry the illicit cigarettes, were detained worth millions in estimated value.

The outcome of this special operation confirms that since the syndicated investigation work that SARS has been doing over the past three years in the tobacco and cigarette industry, there is a shift to increased cross-border smuggling. In this case, local manufacturers linked to the cigarette brands will be engaged as part of our ongoing investigations as it is known that these cigarettes originate from outside South Africa.

Furthermore, it justifies a conclusion, based on trends observed, that on average, over 500 people cross the border on any given day, with each person smuggling at least two master cases of illicit cigarettes on their backs. These cigarettes are then loaded into trucks, some owned by South Africans, and small vehicles which use alternative routes alongside the border and in collusion with some local farmers with to reach their intended destinations for distribution on the local market.

SARS will continue enhancing its Customs Enforcement capacity and capability to deal with illicit trade in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies aimed at improving the tax and Customs ecosystem and protecting the sovereignty of the Republic of South Africa, by making it hard and costly for traders and taxpayers who are wilfully, criminally and intentionally non-compliant.

SARS Commissioner Mr Edward Kieswetter lauded the joint efforts of the law enforcement agencies that led to this successful operation. He expressed his deep concern at the alleged involvement of many syndicates in these operations, within the bordering farming communities, including those who are using their properties and vehicles in collusion with these syndicates

“We will use all information gathered by enforcement agencies to follow up, and prosecute where necessary, those who are involved in these syndicated crimes. All those who are involved, irrespective of their nationality, will face the full might of the law. We will continue to carry out our enforcement work without fear, favour or prejudice to protect local industries and promote economic development,” Mr Kieswetter said.

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