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“Crime syndicates using gangland tactics to retain control of cigarette trade”

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Syndicates reportedly using the threat of violence, intimidation and other tactics to force informal traders to keep selling their stock

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ORGANISED crime syndicates in South Africa are using gangland tactics to retain control of the cigarette trade they captured during the government ban enforced in response to Covid-19, activist group Tax Justice South Africa (TJSA) warned on Tuesday.

The prohibition of alcohol and tobacco sales, which was lifted in August after nearly five months, gave criminals in illegal trade a monopoly on these markets, TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee said in a statement.

“Illicit cigarettes became more lucrative than dealing drugs and the kingpins were making R100 million a day, thanks to the ill-advised sales ban,” he said.

“We may be past the peak of the Covid pandemic, but the crime epidemic it spawned is still surging.”

“Now the ban is lifted, these criminals are in no mood to relinquish control. They have used their vast tax-free profits to expand their supply networks and embed themselves in communities,” he added.

He cited reports saying these syndicates were using the threat of violence, intimidation and other tactics to force informal traders to keep selling their stock.

South African Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter has said these criminals became so entrenched during the sales ban that it will take years to root them out.

“There is a price war, with the emphasis on war and a very real danger of bloodshed,” Abramjee said on Tuesday.

“That should come as no surprise, as Tax Justice SA warned of this disaster from Day 1 of lockdown. Now it is (government) ministers’ responsibility to repair the damage and fulfil their duty of collecting taxes and spending them in the interests of the South African people.”

He said smuggling was an increasing problem, particularly at the border with Zimbabwe, with supposedly legitimate manufacturers continuing to engage in illicit trade.

“There must be better enforcement of trading laws and thorough auditing at tobacco factories,” said Abramjee.

“We are winning the fight against a deadly virus but our war against these deadly criminals is barely beginning.”

TJSA campaigns for urgent action to be taken against organised criminal gangs and also seeks to expose the theft of billions of rand in legally due taxes every year.

It says approximately R250 million is looted from South Africa every day by the illicit economy.

– African News Agency (ANA)