Polokwane - Contraband cigarettes with an estimated street value of R5 million were seized at the Beit Bridge border post in Limpopo in January, the Hawks said on Thursday.

Thirty-eight foreign nationals were arrested during the month-long operation, Hawks provincial head Maj-Gen Dibero Molatjana said.

Due to the security at the Beit Bridge port of entry, syndicates were now creating false compartments in luxury vehicles, instead of heavy-duty trucks, to avoid detection.

“Our aim is to kill the criminal mind so that these syndicates do not design new ways to avoid detection,” Molatjana said.

The illegal trade had cost the South African government over R5 billion in taxes in 2012.

According to the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, the fiscus lost around R12 billion over the past three years, Molatjana said.

He said independent research had shown that the trade accounted for 30 percent of the total cigarette market in South Africa, with about 55 percent of the products coming from Zimbabwe.

Sapa