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Smuggling cartels control Mutare

by Staff reporter
15 Jun 2021 at 05:11hrs | Views
CARTELS smuggling fuel and second-hand clothes into the country have become powerful and daring to an extent of hiring earth-moving equipment to clear and periodically repair gravel roads connecting into Mozambique through undesignated points without the local authorities' involvement, The Herald reported.

Fuel tankers and other heavy trucks laden with clothing bales cross into Zimbabwe from Mozambique, at times, in broad daylight in full view of police and other security officers manning the illegal crossing points.

The cartels have become so powerful that they monopolise the illegal routes and reportedly bribe security officers deployed at the borders.

Armed ex-police officers and ex-soldiers offer escort services to the smugglers to avoid arrest.

At times when some sacrificial lambs are arrested, presumably as a cover-up measure, the investigators just scratch on the surface and prosecute only truck drivers and some agents, without digging deeper to establish the truck owners and their interests in the deals.

A check with some court records shows that the truck owners are not even mentioned in the papers and in some cases, business addresses are deliberately left out.

Such half-baked investigations that target small fish result in drivers and other agents getting paltry fines at the end of the case.

A few days later, the truck owners successfully seek release of their vehicles that would have been held as exhibits.

When the vehicles are released, smuggling continues unabated and the convicted drivers resume operations at their workstations.

Some junior police officers, who try to dig deeper and investigate further, instead, in some cases, find themselves in the dock answering to criminal abuse of office or bribery charges.

During interviews, The Herald heard that some police officers who have overstayed in Manicaland were among those protecting the criminals.

Some officers started working in Mutare as constables and managed to rise to ranks above inspector working in the same area.

Transfers, sources said, at times are cosmetic to an extent of having a detective being moved from one section to the other in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) but working in the same building for decades.

It is a policy in the Zimbabwe Republic Police that the longest period an officer can stay at a police station is five years.

The Herald deployed a team of journalists to Burma Valley and other areas closer to the border where smuggling of fuel and clothes was rife.

There is a dusty road connecting to Mozambique's Magaka area, Manica Province, from Burma Valley, which appeared heavily damaged by the smugglers' heavy trucks despite having been recently repaired using graders.

Smugglers take advantage of the relations between Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, who live closer to the border.

They visit each other without any documentation, with some crossing into either country for church services, funerals, clinics and schools.

Mutare City Council spokesperson Mr Spren Mutiwi said the local authority had no role to play in the said road maintenance and is not responsible for its repairs.

"We have nothing to do with that road. You can try Mutare Rural District Council. Burma Valley is under the RDC," said Mr Mutiwi.

Mutare RDC chief executive Mr Chinaka confirmed the existence of

the road but also wondered who was funding its maintenance.

"I understand it is a farm road but I do not know who is funding its maintenance. We are not the ones who cleared it, neither are we maintaining it. On the issue of smuggling, as RDC we have nothing to say.

"The police are better placed to comment on that one," he said.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the road in question is informal and it is also used by locals who walk into or out of Mozambique.

"As for the said Burma Valley area in Manicaland Province, there are no formal roads, Security Services have observed unofficial entry and exit points along the border used by the Magaka (from Mozambique) community to access services on the Zimbabwean side through the surrounding farms. The people are accessing social services which include a primary and a secondary school at Mazonwe, a clinic and other services," he said.

The Herald crew put up at some strategic place where about 12 trucks crossed from Mozambique into Zimbabwe using that illegal route in one night.

They started crossing from 2am to around 4am.

All of them managed to pass through a police checkpoint a few kilometres from the boundary.

The escort teams usually wait for the truckers while drinking beer at Chigodora shopping centre, a few kilometres from the border.

The men are known for violence and they can pay the bar tenders and be allowed to drink until early morning when the trucks come.

That is done in violation of the lockdown regulations.

At times the truckers travel during the day where they are least expected, to hoodwink some security forces at checkpoints.

In an interview, Acting Headman for the area, Mr Henry Kaswa said smuggling was rife adding that it was shocking that the trucks were passing through the security checkpoint.

"We see vehicles ferrying bales and fuel crossing from Mozambique into Zimbabwe through the illegal point.

"We do not sleep properly because of the noise, trucks passing by one after the other throughout the night.

"It's surprising that the police and some military officers at that green tent let the vehicles pass.

"We do not know how the police operate but we feel smuggling is an offence and the purpose of the checkpoint is to curb those illegal activities," he said.

The traditional leader said the road repairs are done by some individuals, whose motives were not clear without his involvement.

"I am the headman but these things just happen without my involvement. I feel roadworks are developmental programmes that we should all participate in, as farmers, and their headman.

"We see graders repairing the roads and at times people working on it. I am not sure who funds it and with what motive," he said.

The road in question connects to Mozambique where the chief supplier of clothing bales in that country, popularly known as "Jambo" takes over.

He repairs the road from Magaka to other parts of Mozambique to ensure smooth flow of the smugglers' trucks.

Although locals enjoy some priviledge of crossing into the neighbouring countries to visit their relatives, allowing haulage trucks to smuggle fuel and second hand clothes is sabotage to the economy.

A villager Mr Luckson Sandayi said the officers manning the security checkpoint were not performing their duties to expectation.

"We hardly sleep because of the noise produced by the smugglers' trucks. We wonder what the police officers at the checkpoint will be doing.

"It is as good as leaving the checkpoint unattended and letting everyone pass," he said.

Ms Martha Gutukunuhwa, a villager, said a local businessman and his sons who are in the business of smuggling clothing bales, together with other transport operators, were participating in the road maintenance, hiring locals for labour.

"That is corruption and we do not accept that. The truckers pay bribes to pass and it is not a secret.

"What are the policemen and soldiers at that tent doing? It pains me. If this continues, our economy will never grow and we will continue suffering," she said.

After gathering the information in Musapa Village, The Herald crew came face-to-face with some of the armed escort teams in a black Honda CRV vehicle, who ordered them to stop, demanding to know the purpose of the visit.

That resulted in a high-speed chase with the black Honda-CRV in hot pursuit.

The chase ended when the crew arrived in Mutare.

Asst Comm Nyathi blasted corruption by police officers and other security service members at the borders.

"The Zimbabwe Republic Police does not condone any form of corruption by combined security service teams which are manning the security tent alluded to," he said.

"The ZRP will continue to monitor the whole border to ensure that smuggling activities are curtailed. We request the public to come forward with credible information for arrests to be done swiftly. At the same time, we urge communities around the border not to aid smuggling or act as informants to the smugglers," he said.

Asst Comm Nyathi added that police have launched operations to curb smuggling in all border areas and a number of arrests have since been made.

"Since January 2021, a number of smugglers have been arrested along the borders with some being accounted for after evading security systems whilst in the country in Rusape, Macheke, Nyazura and Mutare.

"The arrests include five haulage trucks where 1 288 bales were recovered, with suspects going to the extent of offering US$9 000 cash to police officers and Zimbabwe National Army officers. The recent case occurred on June 10 2021, in Chipinge, where 633 bales of clothes and 32 bales of shoes were recovered from three trucks which had been abandoned by the owners after they were intercepted by the police. The suspects are currently being sought by the police," he said.

A check with some recent cases at the magistrates' courts shows that investigations were scratching on the surface.

Two men were recently arrested for smuggling into Zimbabwe tankers of petrol, a total of 221 000 litres, using forged papers that designated the contents as crude de-gummed soya bean oil, which is exempted from duty.

Malvern Mugodoki (38), an agent working for Vernson Freight Pvt Ltd and Wellington Kusalaweka (34), who operates from Hurudza House in Mutare, were arrested on fraud charges. Mugodoki and Kusawela were freed on $10 000 bail each. However, the names of company or companies that imported the fuel were not mentioned in court.

The vehicles were identified as registration number AEZ 3183, AEU 9772 and AEG 7618 but nothing was done to establish the owners and their interests in the matter.

In another case, a local Mutare businessman (name withheld) had his vehicles impounded by detectives while ferrying 142 bales smuggled from Mozambique.

In his statement, the businessman admitted that his vehicles were ferrying smuggled bales but tables turned, resulting in three detectives being arrested for soliciting bribes from him.

The detectives are still appearing in court for bribery while the businessman walks scotfree after getting his trucks back.

He is now a State witness.

Source - the herald