Sars border officer among 3 arrested for cigarette smuggling at Beitbridge
A SA Revenue Service (Sars) employee stationed at the Beitbridge border post and two other men have been arrested for trying to get a truck containing R10m worth of contraband cigarettes released by the police.
Sars official Freddy Lentsoane, 36, is in police custody while his co-accused, Christian Laurens Bezuidenhout, 19, and Christian Phillipus Bezuidenhout, 64, are out on R2,000 bail each. They appeared at Tshilwavhusiku magistrate’s court in Polokwane on Tuesday facing charges of corruption and defeating the ends of justice.
According to Limpopo police spokesperson Col Moatse Ngoepe, police reacted after seeing a suspicious truck on the move at 3am on December 3 on the N1.
“Makhado police were performing patrol duties when they noticed a truck driving at a high speed along the N1 road and tried to stop it.
“The driver sped off and members called for backup from Tshilwavhusiku SAPS. In the process, the police received information from the tracking company about a hijacked truck matching the same description, heading towards Tshilwavhusiku area,” he said.
The truck was later found abandoned with cigarettes smuggled from Zimbabwe worth R9.9m inside it.
Later in the day, Lentsoane arrived at Makhado police station claiming he was on duty and the truck had been officially cleared at the Beitbridge border. The other two accused also arrived at the same time to claim they were the owners of the truck.
“It was also revealed that the truck was never hijacked. The suspects were apprehended on the spot,” said Col Ngoepe.
During the first phase of the Covid-19 lockdown, illicit cigarette trade between Zimbabwe and SA boomed because the latter had banned cigarettes for nearly five months. This was intended to prevent respiratory problems associated with Covid-19.
University of Cape Town research showed 93% of smokers during the ban got their cigarettes from the illegal market.
But the growth of the illegal market during the lockdown restrictions is having lasting effects, as the cheaper prices — due to no taxes being levied — prove attractive to some smokers, a problem the legal industry has highlighted.