Botswana is believed to be a prime route for a cigarette smuggling syndicate peddling top of the range cigarettes from Zimbabwe through Botswana and into South Africa.
Working on a tip off from members of the public, Tshesebe police recently interrupted a smuggling operation and managed to capture 218 boxes of Pacific and Remington gold cigarettes being transported into Botswana from Zimbabwe through an ungazetted point in Jackalas 2.
Thirty-four boxes were discovered hidden along the banks of the river while the rest were recovered from two trucks at a family belonging to a local village resident. Speaking to The Sunday Standard on Friday, Tshesebe Police Station Commander, Superintendent Mojaboswa Mathitha, said that the culprits just parked their truck across the border and hired a group of people to help them to physically carry the boxes across the border onto the Botswana side. The elderly woman and her son have since been charged.
The two trucks and the contraband have since been given to the Botswana Unified Revenue Service and the drivers of the two trucks have been charged under the Customs and Excise Act.
An official at BURS, Molepi Chikumbudzi, said that the culprits have been charged and admission of guilt set at P15 000. He however said that the charge is still under review as officials believe that it is too small and has to be reviewed so that a stern message is sent to would be smugglers. The customs act allows for an admission of guilt charge to be three times the value of the goods.
Chikumbudzi also told The Sunday Standard that the illegal smuggling of the 218 boxes into Botswana represent a loss of P965 522.00 in revenue from duties. But he laughs off the figure as a small figure saying that they continuously handle cases involving large amounts of money and, in comparison, the recent development is a very small case. He took The Sunday Standard to the BURS impound where he showed us trucks with different modifications, which were caught while smuggling cigarettes to South Africa.
He, however, said that they prefer for the perpetrators to pay admission of guilt instead of going to court as such an exercise would strain their manpower. Chikumbudzi said that cases involving drugs, diamonds, game trophies and very large amounts of money are usually handed over to the police and taken to court.
Adding to Chikumbudzi’s words Superintendent Mathitha said that the problem of smuggling has always been there and they have handled cases of a larger magnitude in the past. He said that he was saddened by the fact that Batswana seem to be highly involved in these serious crimes saying that by so doing they are denying the country revenue that could be collected as duties from these goods and later used to provide social services for Batswana.
The Tshesebe seizure follows another incident in which Masunga police also captured 157 boxes of the same brands of cigarettes as they were being smuggled into Botswana from Zimbabwe. Chikumbudzi said that these represent a loss of P 695 353 in revenue to Botswana.
Bobonong Police station Commander, Patrick Mbikiwa, also told The Sunday Standard that in September they discovered 320 boxes of Remington Gold cigarettes along the border valued at close to P2 million. Recently, they also caught a 72-year-old woman with two 50kg bags of what they suspect to be marijuana in her house. More plastic bags containing the drug were also found in the house and further investigations revealed that she was working in cahoots with two Zimbabwean men who had apparently left the loot at her house while they transported 5 more bags to Gaborone. Mbikiwa said that the suspect stuff has been impounded and some taken for testing to ascertain if indeed it is marijuana.
Information reaching The Sunday Standard indicates that heads might be about to roll in the top echelons of the Zimbabwean business community. Sources have revealed that the Remington Gold and Pacific cigarettes are top of the range brands that are produced purely for export to South Africa, for consumption by five star hotels and gentlemen’s clubs, at a tightly guarded government factory in Harare. The recent capture of the illegal contraband in Botswana has raised eyebrows and suspects are said to be scurrying for cover as government is said to be on the hunt for those who are stealing the government property and smuggling it into South Africa for personal gain.