3 arrested with illegal cigarettes during level 5 lockdown jailed for 3-and-a-half years

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Three men, one of them a foreigner, were jailed this week to an effective 3-and-a-half years behind bars for possession of illegal cigarettes.

The trio were arrested in April last year, when the country was in level 5 lockdown and President Cyril Ramaphosa had placed a ban on the sale of cigarettes.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson in KZN Natasha Kara said Mero Cossa, Bongani Joseph Mthembu and Zibonele Excellent Msweli were convicted and sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment in the Durban Regional Court.

Kara said 18 months of the sentence, for the possession of illegal cigarettes, was wholly suspended.

Cossa, who is a Mozambican national, was further sentenced to a R1 500 fine or three months’ imprisonment (wholly suspended for five years) for contravening the Immigration Act by entering the country illegally.

Kara said the trio transported illegal cigarettes as they drove in a vehicle convoy through the Phinda Game Reserve in April 2020.

“The cigarettes were hidden under a black cloth. The game warder at the entrance of the game reserve became suspicious when they refused for their vehicles to be searched.

“The warder alerted his colleagues who called the police. When the first vehicle in the convoy arrived at the exit gate, the vehicle was searched and a consignment of cigarettes was found. The two other vehicles arrived empty. Upon questioning, the drivers then took the police back into the game reserve to the place where they had hidden the cigarettes they were transporting and they were immediately arrested.”

Kara said senior State advocate Selvan Govender had led an expert witness from the South African Revenue Service who had testified about the impact of the illegal goods trade on the economy. He had said the state lost about R444 000 in taxes on the items.

The vehicles used in the convoy were seized by the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit.

-IOL

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