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Diplomats behaving badly: Dirco curbs access to duty-free booze, cigarettes

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
An investigation has uncovered a racket whereby diplomats and their staff are buying liquor and cigarettes at greatly reduced prices and selling it at a profit. This deprives the fiscus of revenue and the authorities are clamping down. File photo.
An investigation has uncovered a racket whereby diplomats and their staff are buying liquor and cigarettes at greatly reduced prices and selling it at a profit. This deprives the fiscus of revenue and the authorities are clamping down. File photo.
Image: 123rf/Jakub Godja

The government has had to implement strict measures to control the volumes of tobacco and alcohol foreign diplomats are bringing into the country.

Among the benefits foreign diplomats enjoy in SA is being able to buy alcohol and tobacco products at discounted prices as they do not pay the “sin taxes” that normal citizens do.

But a department of international relations and co-operation investigation found that some were reselling the booze and smokes to citizens at ridiculously high prices.

Dirco's latest annual report reveals how it had to initiate measures to curb the abuse of diplomatic privileges.

“Duty-free shops have been identified as a high-risk environment where the abuse of diplomatic privileges has led to substantial losses to the fiscus. A number of foreign missions were identified, where diplomatic and consular agents abused the privileges accorded to them for personal gain, through the resale of duty-free alcohol and tobacco products in volumes far greater than those considered to be for personal or official use,” reads the report.

It said a section will be established within the department which will control the volumes of tobacco and alcohol allowed per diplomat and consular agent.

A quota system was approved in conjunction with the revenue service and will be implemented in mid-2021, said the report covering the financial year ended March.

In June, SA declared several diplomats persona non-grata after an intensive investigation into their flouting of diplomatic privileges. At the time, Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the affected diplomats were found guilty of illicitly trading in duty-free alcohol.

“This decision was taken in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961,” he said.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without the threat of influence by the host government, said Monyela at the time. “However, in instances where such privileges are abused, the host country is obliged to take the necessary action in line with the convention.

“To this end, SA has given the affected diplomatic staff members and their families 72 hours to leave SA. They are expected to relinquish their diplomatic status by returning all the necessary diplomatic tools to Dirco.”

Monyela said further investigations of similar transgressions by other missions accredited to SA were at an advanced stage and that similar action would be taken if they were to be found guilty.

TimesLIVE


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