By Harry Fisher|
Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi is operating a complex racket involved in smuggling millions of dollars worth of contraband cigarettes into South Africa every year, a Now Daily investigation has found.
Border officials confirmed that Mohadi used uniformed police officers routinely to accompany containers of smuggled cigarettes to SA, where they found a ready market.
“The police are aggressive and insist that the minister’s shipments are not searched or scanned,” said a source at the Beitbridge border. “They also like to come when it is very busy and there is a lot of congestion. The senior officer is forced to let the smuggling trucks pass through the green route under the pretext of clearing excess traffic.”
The official said the corrupt police officers were assisted by their counterparts in the South African Police Service (SAPS) to clear the other side of the border.
Mohadi could not be reached for comment.
However, sources in the South African government said the net was closing in on him and other profiled cigarette smuggling suspects.
A statement from SAPS said cigarette smuggling from Zimbabwe was being prioritised after it emerged the country supplied 55 to 70 percent of the 10 billion cigarettes reaching the SA black market in 2012.
“Independent research shows that the illegal trade in cigarettes now accounts for 30% of the total cigarette market in SA, with approximately 55 percent of illegal tobacco products reaching South Africa from Zimbabwe,” said the Stop Illegal Cigarettes campaign of the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA).
SAPS has bolstered its presence and has mounted surveillance and public awareness teams in the Limpopo province, which borders Zimbabwe.
The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), in partnership with TISA and the University of Limpopo hosted the first Anti-Illicit Trade Summit in Limpopo recently, attracting law enforcement officials, key government agencies, tobacco industry executives, academics, anti-corruption activists and deputy provincial commissioners from around the country. The meeting was “aimed at finding a common solution to fight the scourge of the illegal trade in cigarettes,” according to SAPS.
“The summit was a culmination of the ongoing collaboration between the tobacco industry and law enforcement agencies to curb the scourge of illicit trade in Limpopo and the rest of the country,” said SAPS spokesman in Limpopo, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi. “The Beitbridge border post and adjacent border lines have fallen prey to cigarette smugglers who smuggle cigarettes into South Africa.”
Some delegates were, however, skeptical the initiative could succeed without tangible co-operation from Mohadi and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), ranked in a recent Afrobarometer survey as the third most corrupt police force in Africa. Mohadi has signed various protocols with the South Africans, but these have evidently failed to curb smuggling, officials say.
Zimbabwe’s border patrol unit is accused of massive corruption, with its officers often being hired to protect smugglers from being spotted by units of the South African National Defence Force guarding the border, say witnesses.
“With more than 50 percent of illegal cigarettes coming from countries such as Zimbabwe, there is a serious need of working together with the various law-enforcement agencies of those countries,” said Limpopo premier Stanley Mathathabatha.