Smuggling ring smoked out by cops

BURNING ISSUE: South African Revenue Service Commissioner Pravin Gordhan checks up on Custom staff at Durban harbour in this file picture. Durban is one of many ports where smuggled cigarettes can leak into South Africa, although it has up-to-date technology to scan shipments for illegal goods. 24/06/2006. © Unknown.
BURNING ISSUE: South African Revenue Service Commissioner Pravin Gordhan checks up on Custom staff at Durban harbour in this file picture. Durban is one of many ports where smuggled cigarettes can leak into South Africa, although it has up-to-date technology to scan shipments for illegal goods. 24/06/2006. © Unknown.

Andrew Hlongwane

Andrew Hlongwane

Police in Mpumalanga have made a breakthrough in smashing a syndicate dealing in illegal cigarettes through the Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and South African borders.

Five men believed to be part of the syndicate were arrested after illegal cigarettes worth R3,6m were found near the Mahamba border post yesterday.

Police spokesman Captain Leonard Hlathi said the arrests were made after the flying squad spotted a Toyota Tazz mounted with a blue flashing light driving close to a horse-and-trailer truck near the border post.

The police drove between the two vehicles. The car made a U-turn and drove off. They tried to stop the truck but the driver ignored instructions and the police shot at one of the truck's tyre, forcing it to stop. But, its occupants vanished into the nearby forest.

Police found illegal cigarettes worth R3.6m, smuggled from Zimbabwe via Swaziland. While they were at the scene one suspect came back and gave them the truck owner's telephone number. The man was arrested on the spot.

The owner was called and said he only knew that his truck was on its way to Johannesburg for a service.

Captain Leonard Hlathi said the owner later called the police and asked for forgiveness. He said he was aware his truck was transporting the tobacco and offered to pay the police a R25000 bribe to release it.

He sent his son and when police searched his Toyota Corolla, R15000 was found and he was also arrested .

Hlathi said the two men then pointed out a Lexus with three occupants of Indian origin and told them the cigarettes were going to be delivered to their shops in Nelspruit.

The three suspects were arrested and cars worth R500000 and a horse and trailer worth R2million were confiscated.

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