Illicit cigarettes that were declared as tissue paper worth R10 million have been seized by South African Revenue Service (SARS) customs officials.
In a statement on Thursday, SARS said the bust at the Durban harbour, was a culmination of an operation in Cape Town a few days ago when illegal cigarettes, valued at R6 million, were seized.
The Durban bust at the weekend was based on information received about a container that was imported from an East Asian country with contents incorrectly declared as tissue paper.
“Due to the recent riots in KwaZulu-Natal, the vessel was delayed at outer anchorage and the container was only released on the 16th July 2021.However, once the container was scrutinised on the Transnet system, it was established that the container contained illicit cigarettes, which may also be counterfeit.”
Immediately after the riots, said SARS, “there was a delay with the Transnet core systems, which resulted in further delays at the port. As the port gradually recovered, the container was released from the port on 28 July 2021”.
“After an arduous search on the 29th July 2021, 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 Magistrates 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.”
The goods were detained and deposited at the SARS State Warehouse. A criminal case has been opened with the South African Police Service and investigations are ongoing.
SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter praised the determination of customs officials for getting to the storage facility despite the odds.
“Our customs officials understand the importance of preventing illicit goods, such as cigarettes, from entering South Africa, because they destroy local industry and contribute to the loss of job,” he said.
He added that their actions were proof that SARS would not tolerate non-compliance by any taxpayer or trader.
“We will make it hard and costly for those who wilfully flout our country’s laws,” said Kieswetter.