Freeman Razemba Crime Reporter
MORE than 400 cars are believed to have been smuggled into the country this year alone by a syndicate of Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) officials and clearing agents who have been processing counterfeit undervalued import documents to smuggle vehicles and other products. The Herald is reliably informed that five suspects have been arrested in connection with some of the cases after they allegedly cleared 52 cars in Harare using the fake documents.
Although the details are still sketchy, sources said following their arrests, the suspects were found in possession of more than 100 fake clearance certificates. Investigations carried out revealed that the suspects managed to acquire registration number plates for at least 52 vehicles and this was discovered by officials at the Central Vehicle Registry (CVR) last week.
By yesterday, it was still not clear how the suspects managed to obtain the fake documents as investigations are still in progress. It has also emerged that for the past few years, several car dealers in and around Harare had their cars seized by Zimra after it was discovered that most of them had fake documentation.
According to some of the car dealers, the clearing agents are working with some Zimra officials to smuggle the cars into the country and then impound them for auction. Some of the dealers have since taken Zimra to court in a bid to recover their vehicles.
Last week the Zimra board suspended its Commissioner-General Mr Gershem Pasi and five other senior executive managers after questions were raised over the importation of vehicles.
This comes amid reports that Zimra was losing millions of dollars to dealers who processed counterfeit undervalued import documents to smuggle vehicles and other products into the country.
Mr Pasi and the five executive managers were sent on paid leave to pave way for investigations. The other five executives are Charlton Chihuri (40), loss control director ; Anna Mutombodzi (50), Commissioner of Customs and Excise; Tjiyapo Velempini (49), director ICT and infrastructural development; Clive Charles Majengwa (52), director internal audit; and, Sithokozile Thembani Mrewa (47), director human resources.
Zimra board chairperson Mrs Willia Bonyongwe confirmed the suspensions in a statement. She advised members of the public that the authority now had a hotline on which any corrupt activity by any Zimra employee can be reported. The toll-free hotline numbers are: Econet (0808190); Telecel (0732880880) and WhatsApp (0772 135690).
Zimra has been losing millions of dollars to a syndicate of dealers who process counterfeit undervalued import documents to smuggle in vehicles. Several people, some of them former Zimra employees, allegedly act as clearing agents and have been arrested for prejudicing the State of various amounts of money in separate incidents.
Senior Zimra officials who are supposed to be custodians of customs and excise laws, have reportedly used bogus clearing agents to import personal vehicles. Some of the offences were unearthed recently after the owners approached Zimra offices to check the authenticity of documents for their vehicles.
In one of the incidents, two Harare men were arrested on allegations of processing import documents to smuggle in six vehicles through Beitbridge Border Post, prejudicing the State of $157 500,24.
Timoth Simfukwe (39) and Liberty Tinashe Mahembe (30) this week appeared before Harare magistrate Mr Tendai Mahwe, who remanded them to May 27 on $500 bail each.
They are facing six counts of fraud for offences committed between June last year and January this year. Simfukwe is the director of Eftrade Ventures, while Mahembe is employed by Vonlet Trading (Private) Limited as a manager.
The two are accused of hatching plans to undervalue cars and preparing counterfeit import documents for Chihuri, Mutombodzi, Velempini, Majengwa and Mrewa. All of them had received loans ranging between $90 000 and $120 000 to purchase Toyota Land Cruiser and Toyota Prado vehicles.
They all handed their money to Simfukwe on separate occasions last year who then used the same method of operation, conniving with Mahembe to process the fake documents.