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Sars snatches R16-million worth of illicit cigarettes in two weeks

The South African Revenue Services (Sars) said on Thursday it had seized R10-million worth of illicit cigarettes that were declared as tissue paper at the Durban harbour.

Sars said the bust by its customs officials in Durban followed an operation in Cape Town, in which another lot of illegal cigarettes, valued at R6-million, were seized. 

The tobacco industry says a ban on cigarette sales, implemented for five months last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, helped to fuel black market trade in the commodity, which is likely to thrive for a long time.

On Thursday, Sars said the Durban bust came after officials received information about a container imported from an East Asian country with its contents incorrectly declared as tissue paper.

The vessel was delayed at outer anchorage and the container was released only on 16 July, because of the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal. 

Sars said that when the container was scrutinised on logistics utility Transnet’s system, officials established that there were illicit cigarettes inside. 

“It was established that the cargo was delivered to a storage facility at Old North Coast Road in Glen Anil. On 30 July, a search warrant was obtained at the Verulam magistrate’s court and Sars entered the premises. Inside the warehouse were 950 master cases of Pacific 14mg cigarettes (illicit product) and 50 boxes of tissue paper,” Sars said.

A criminal case has been reportedly opened with the South African Police Service. 

Sars Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said the bust showed that the tax agency “will not tolerate noncompliance by any taxpayer or trader and that we will make it hard and costly for those who wilfully flout our country’s laws”.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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