Cigarette smugglers took control of market during Covid-19 lockdown, says Tax Justice SA
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Pretoria – The Tax Justice SA campaign has called for an urgent investigation into smuggling at South Africa’s “porous borders”, in a bid to stop the flow of contraband, particularly illicit cigarettes, bleeding the economy of millions or rand every day through tax evasion.
Tax Justice SA founder Yusuf Abramjee was reacting to the arrest of a South African Revenue Service (Sars) official last week. The office was remanded in custody following the seizure of a truck carrying illicit cigarettes worth almost R10 million, in Limpopo.
“Illicit cigarettes have been flooding over our borders since criminals took complete control of the tobacco market during the lockdown sales ban,” said Abramjee.
“They have established the world’s biggest black market in cigarettes and are making billions of rand every month in tax-free profits, while our ailing economy is being starved of vital funds.
“The alleged involvement of a Sars officer is a sinister development, and a full and thorough investigation must now be conducted to secure our borders.”
The official and two accomplices face charges of corruption and defeating the course of justice, over the seized truck and contraband, which was allegedly cleared to cross over the Beitbridge border from neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Tax Justice SA said the seizure was the latest in a series of busts featuring Remington Gold cigarettes, which are made in Zimbabwe by Gold Leaf, the tobacco giant which also manufactures several local brands in South Africa including RG, Sahawi, Chicago, Voyager and Sharp at its factory in Gauteng.
Gold Leaf brands were by far the biggest illicit sellers during the nationwide lockdown enforced from late March in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a ban on cigarette sales, said Abramjee.
“Remington Gold was smuggled so successfully that five million of them were being sold every day. They are now openly available throughout the country, along with other brands on which due taxes are obviously not being paid,” he said.
“Authorities must account for why these criminals have been handed control of a hugely lucrative cigarette trade and why they are being permitted to systematically loot South Africans of vital funds needed to save lives, feed the hungry and build a better future.”
Efforts to get comment from Gold Leaf in South Africa were unsuccessful.
African News Agency (ANA)