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Illegal cigarettes trapped in Namibia
A truck allegedly carrying a consignment of several million dollars worth of illegal cigarettes in-transit to neighbouring Angola has been abandoned at the Oshikango custom office for nearly a month following interception by Interpol.
The illegal cigarette trafficking ring, which remains faceless at this stage, allegedly hired a truck last month to collect a large consignment of cigarettes smuggled into Namibia from Dubai through the port of Walvis Bay.
Well-placed sources claim it is very likely that the 44-foot container is carrying over 1,000 cartons of cigarettes, which roughly translate to an estimated N$5 million worth of stock.
The consignment of illegal tobacco, which was not declared as cigarettes on shipping documents but rather as soap in an attempt to evade heavy taxes, was, however, intercepted by a multi-agency cross-border operation.
One of the agencies involved was the British America Tobacco (BAT) company, the largest distributor of tobacco in southern Africa.
Although it is not yet clear what the total of the duty evaded is, if the owners of the suspected contraband manage to bribe their way past corrupt border officials, it would also have a negative impact on BAT.
BAT, which has a portfolio of 22 brands in South Africa – including big names like Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant and KENT - reportedly contribute about R8 billion in excise and VAT per year to the South African Government alone.
Although alerted about the illegal consignment, the hands of Namibian customs officers are tied in the matter as they do not have legal authority to inspect goods in containers on their way to other destinations.
“We know all the trade secrets by now. The smugglers normally hide cartons of illegal cigarettes behind carton boxes of soap to try and deceive customs. If given a chance, we would open the container, but we don’t have the authority to do so,” said a customs official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Namibian Sun also understand that the Angolan authorities are on high alert, and once the consignment enters Angola via the Santa-Clara border post, the covert surveillance operators will pounce.
Well-placed sources insist that the owners of the illicit cigarettes, who remain untraceable, have ordered the truck to be parked at Oshikango in the hope of buying time and putting a number of corrupt customs officials on their payroll.
“The problem with this specific consignment is that too many people already know about it by now, which will make it very difficult for them to bribe their way out of it,” said a source.
When contacted for comment, the South African Head of Corporate Communication at BAT South Africa, Itumeleng Langeni, referred all queries to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA).
TISA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Francios van der Merwe said that although he does not have details of the incident, his organisation is fully aware that a number of SACU countries are being used by unscrupulous smugglers as transit countries for illegal cigarettes.
“This has a huge impact on the economy of the broader SADC region. We welcome the strong action against illicit traders that no one is above the law.”
“These products, unfortunately, often end up on the South African market where they are sold without relevant duties and taxes being paid,” he added.
Van der Merwe pointed out that the South African government loses around R4 billion per annum, money, he says, can be used to improve on the much-needed infrastructure.