Working from a tip-off, the SARS Customs team at Beit Bridge Border Post this week (9 October) seized around R3 million in smuggled cigarettes which had been concealed in a fuel tanker crossing the border.
500 master cases of cigarettes (around 25 000 cartons in total) were concealed in a fuel tanker and its trailer, which had been cut open, filled toalmost 90% with the cigarettes, resealed, welded shut and repainted before proceeding to the Border Post. The tanks were crossing as “empty”, and had been fitted with false compartments around the top access hatch, which meant that a “dipstick test” would have indicated an empty tanker.
It is clear that a considerable amount of effort was put into this attempt, and that similar effort would have been required at the tanker’s final destination to reopen the tanks and retrieve the cigarettes.
The SARS Compliance Programme launched on 1 April 2012lists illicit cigarettes as one of 7 key focus areas for SARS’s work over the next few years. It notes that the “prevalence of the trade in and consumption of illicit cigarettes…undermines government efforts to reduce the negative impact of cigarette smoking (which) in the case of illicit cigarettes is made even worse by the frequent use of lethal additives and mixers”. The report goes on to note that “we are aware that a significant number of illicit cigarettes are consumed in SA each year amounting to a considerable loss of revenue”.
It is difficult, however, to place an exact figure of the prevalence of illicit cigarettes and therefore an exact loss to the fiscus. The tobacco industry (TISA) estimates that up to R4 billion is lost each year in excise duty from illicit cigarettes but we at SARS do not have accurate figures for this.
SARS most recent Annual Report tabled in Parliament last month notes that in the 2011/12 financial year alone, SARS seized 75 456 master cases of illicit cigarettes, with a street value estimated at R278.4 million.