“The problem runs far deeper than enormous losses of fiscal income that could have been put to good use to bolster government efforts in education, infrastructure development and poverty alleviation,” said Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa chief executive, Francois van der Merwe.
He further indicated that a major issue is that the illicit market is closely linked to trans-national organised crime syndicates.
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“Those that trade in illicit products, whether it is cigarettes, alcohol, textiles, DVDs, and environmental crimes such as Rhino poaching or abalone smuggling, are often also involved in other serious crimes, even the funding of terrorism and money laundering.”
Members of law enforcement and revenue and customs agencies are expected to meet in Cape Town between 24 and 26 November, 2014 to collaborate on efforts to address the illicit tobacco trade on the continent.
The objective of the conference is to build a foundation of close collaboration between affected countries in the region as well as their law enforcement, customs, treasury and revenue departments.
“We have seen first-hand what effective focus on combatting illicit trade by government can achieve. South Africa saw a marked decrease in illicit from 31 per cent to 23 per cent in the last year,” van der Merwe stated.
“This is in most part due to the excellent efforts by the various Law Enforcement and Police, Customs and Revenue, Treasury and Defence departments in the South African government.”
He added that while the declining numbers in South Africa are encouraging, this does not bode well for the rest of the region as organised crime is a moving target prone to shifting its focus to “easier” markets when the going gets tough.
“If the pressure is increased in one market, syndicates simply move to the next, which is a real concern. Addressing this shift is one of the objectives of the conference,” he said.
“Imagine what we can achieve if not only government departments are working together to fight the illicit trade but countries too.”
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The conference will include presentations by, amongst others, international policing organisation Interpol, the European Union’s law enforcement unit Europol and COMESA and UK customs officials.
It is also expected to see a host of in-country revenue, customs and law enforcement specialists from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.