SARS seizes illicit cigarettes worth R6m
SARS Destroys Thousands of Illicit Cigarettes Worth Millions. Photo: SA News

The South African Revenue Service’s (SARS) destroyed over 2,000 master boxes of illicit cigarettes, valued at R17.4 million on Tuesday, it announced in a statement.

SARS director for customs border operations, Beyers Theron, said the cigarettes were either illicitly imported or illicitly manufactured in the country. They were seized and destroyed by a government inter-agency working group which has been set up to deal with illicit goods.

Other illicit trade that forms part of the SARS focus include: clothing and textiles, leather and footwear, fuel, poultry, second-hand vehicles, gold and scrap metal, as well as unregistered medicaments which have not been scientifically tested.

With regards illicit cigarettes, SARS statistics indicate that there were 1 150 seizures, equating to 181 million sticks, in the 2020/2021 financial year. These had an estimated value of R219 million, while 92 182 of seized tobacco amounted to a “potential prejudice in duties and VAT estimated at over R163-million”.

SARS said this was a more than 100% increase against the previous financial year (2019/20) which had yielded 445 seizures with a value of R103.5 million. Seizure trends per port of entry for the 2020/2021 financial year shows that most cigarette seizures occurred at Beit Bridge, Groblers Bridge, Kopfontein, Lebombo and Skilpadshek border posts.

Theron warned the public that illicit cigarette trade negatively impacts the country’s revenue collection, saying this was much-needed money meant to provide basic services to all South Africans, including the poor and vulnerable.

“It destroys local industries, leading to factory closures, job losses and further erosion of the tax base. Some of these goods present a public health hazard, putting a strain on the health care system.

“It contributes to higher levels of criminality, including bribery and corruption, as well as drawing the country into various syndicates of organised crime drug-smuggling, gun-running and human trafficking,” he said.

SARS Customs recently established the National Rapid Response Team (NRRT) in an effort to compliment front-line operations and to provide agile and flexible deployment operations to major areas of risk.

The NRRT is also responsible for rapid deployments at checkpoints at identified hotspots in all major provinces and ports of entry. Many of the cigarettes seizures being destroyed can be attributed to the efforts of the Customs front-line supported by the National Rapid Response team.

Earlier this month, Customs officials at Beitbridge, supported by SAPS and the South African National Defence Force, began to destroy illicit cigarettes from previous seizures valued at over R30-million. –