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Tobacco smugglers try to outwit cops

By Karishma Dipa

Johannesburg – A truck carrying a 15-ton load of tobacco worth an estimated street value of about R3 million ended up at an Ekurhuleni police station under false pretences.

In the early hours of Tuesday, the driver showed up at Brackendowns police station in Alberton in a panic, claiming he was being followed by a gang in a Mercedes-Benz C180 who were trying to hijack his cargo.

But when the alleged “hijackers” arrived at the same police station moments later claiming to be police informants on the hunt for the contraband, the driver’s version of events was questioned.

He insisted that the tobacco he was transporting from the Beit Bridge border post in Limpopo to Germiston was legal.

This prompted officers to visit the location in the Ekurhuleni suburb, but when they arrived there, no one was able to corroborate the driver’s version of what happened.

When members of the Joburg metro police department’s crime prevention unit as well as the SAPS crime intelligence unit arrived at the station later to verify if the occupants of the Mercedes-Benz were in fact informers, officers became increasingly suspicious.

This led to an investigation which showed that the entire shipment was contraband tobacco that was illegally destined for Singapore.

Police spokeswoman Sergeant Lindy Moloi told The Star that the driver, the owner of the truck as well as a crew member had since been arrested and charged with possession of illegal tobacco.

The SA Revenue Service will also charge the men with the diversion of exhibit goods, false entry into the country and tax evasion when they appear in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court on Friday.

The articulated truck and the 145 boxes, weighing about 110kg each, have been seized.

By late on Wednesday, police also found tobacco and a replica AK47 while sifting through the cargo.

“We will go through all the boxes and investigate further,” Maloi said.

Police spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Katlego Mogale said the men travelling in the Mercedes following the truck were actually the suspects, and when they realised that the driver was heading for a police station, they disappeared.

It seems the driver nearly managed to con the police.

The Star

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