A crack police team from Harare recently deployed to Mutare to bust smuggling rings bringing in fuel and second-hand clothes has intercepted two trucks laden with 157 bales of clothing, seizing the cargo and the vehicles.
The drivers and their assistants escaped after police opened fire, first with warning shots and then deflating the trucks’ tyres, abandoning the vehicles on the road after racing on rims for several kilometres.
The trucks are believed to be owned by a well-known Mutare businessman (name withheld) who is suspected to be a major importer of bales of smuggled clothes through an illegal crossing point.
Of late, control of the porous border near Mutare had reportedly been taken over by smuggling cartels.
The cartels had become powerful and so daring, to the extent of hiring earth-moving equipment to clear and periodically repair gravel roads passing into Mozambique through undesignated points.
Armed former security officers were hired to provided escort services.
Following a recent investigative story by The Herald, which exposed the rot, the police command in Harare set up a crack team to restore order in Mutare and arrest the smugglers.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said two trucks were impounded while the drivers and their assistants escaped.
“I can confirm that two (9 tonne) trucks ferrying 157 bales of second-hand clothes were intercepted in Burma Valley after crossing into the country illegally through an illegal point.
“Police ordered the drivers to stop but they refused. Our team had to fire warning shots before shooting at the wheels and deflating the tyres.
“They drove on deflated tyres and stopped some kilometres away. The driver and the assistants escaped and the police managed to impound the vehicles and the bales,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
Police are currently investigating the matter, but preliminary investigations points to a Mutare businessman as the owner of the trucks.
Previously, when trucks were intercepted for smuggling, the investigators would reportedly just scratch on the surface and prosecute only the 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, according to media reports, 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, found in some cases they were put in the dock answering to charges of criminal abuse of office or bribery.
During interviews, The Herald heard that some police officers who have overstayed in Manicaland were among those protecting the criminals.
Transfers, sources said, at times are cosmetic to an extent of having a detective being moved from one section to the other in the 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, a time chosen to balance the need for a police officer to get to know their area and community, but not long enough to become embedded in the less desirable parts of that community.