Four suspected illicit cigarettes smugglers have been arrested on the N1 at Musina in Limpopo.

Police Spokesperson Motlafela Mojapelo says they have also confiscated illicit cigarettes with street value estimated at R1 million.

Investigations further discovered more illicit cigarettes in a warehouse in the area.

Mojapelo says the suspects will appear in court soon.

“A joint operation that was conducted by the police, soldiers and customs officials along the N1 road between Beitbridge and Musina succeeded in dismantling a possible network of illicit cigarette smugglers where four suspects were arrested and illicit cigarettes valued at more than R1 million confiscated.

The initial arrests led a team to a warehouse in Musina town where a lot of smuggled cigarettes possibly waiting for distribution for various destinations were found. The suspects will appear in Musina Magistrate’s Court soon,” says Mojapelo.

Illicit trade costing economy millions

The illicit trade in tobacco, especially cigarettes, costs South Africa’s economy billions of rands annually through the loss of tax revenue.

According to the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the estimated loss through the illegal cigarette trade for the 2015/16 financial year was R6 billion.

It seems the illegal cigarette trade will thrive due to the ban on legal sales in the country.

The continued ban forms part of state regulations governing the COVID-19 lockdown and has been in place since March 27.

In the video below, CEO at IRS Forensic Investigations Chad Thomas says illicit cigarette syndicates have been operating for a long time in the country:

Challenge to lift tobacco ban dismissed

The High Court in Pretoria has dismissed with costs an application by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) to have government’s ban on the sale of tobacco products overturned.

The court ruled that FITA’s argument that cigarettes should be regarded as essential because tobacco is addictive has no merit.

Civil rights’ organisation Tax Justice SA joined the legal battle against the ban on the sale of tobacco products by British American Tobacco (BAT).

BAT South Africa’s court challenge has been postponed to the 5th of August.

Tax Justice South Africa’s founder Yusuf Abramjee says ministers in the National Coronavirus Command Council know they cannot legally justify their irrational prohibition of cigarette sales.

In the video below, Abramjee says the ban robs the country’s struggling economy of billions in taxes and threatens thousands of jobs:

-Additional reporting by SABC News.