BY REX MPHISA
THE 433 vehicles recalled by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) this week were smuggled and did not pay Customs and Excise duty, the revenue authority has revealed.
Zimra, which is yet to quantify the prejudice, said there was a possibility of arrests, criminal prosecutions and other punitive measures related to flouting import and export regulations.
Zimra spokesperson Francis Chimanda confirmed his organisation did not know how much was lost.
“The prejudice can only be determined after the vehicles are subjected to proper customs clearance processes,” Chimanda told NewsDay.
“Zimra systems indicate that the vehicles listed did not pay duty at all. The exercise is intended to regularise this irregularity.”
Zimra, through an advertorial in a government-controlled weekly, invited owners of vehicles it had listed to report to its Harare loss control office with import documents of the vehicles.
The plan, Chimanda explained, was to regularise the importations although criminal prosecution could not be ruled out.
“Customs (and Excise) laws and any other relevant legislation will be invoked and the necessary steps will be taken subject to the findings of the exercise,” he said.
According to a section of the Customs and Excise Act, any person who smuggles any goods shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 14 or three times the duty-paid value of the goods, whichever is the greater.
The offence also attracts imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or both.
Offenders are also liable to paying costs of investigations where smuggled goods were discovered by the use of any mechanical scanning device.
“In addition to any other penalty to which he or she may be liable under this Act, to pay a civil penalty equivalent to the value of goods in question.” The Act also empowers the Zimra Commissioner-General to recover costs through the courts.
The government recently enacted another legislation that provides for the forfeiture of any goods or assets deemed to have been acquired from proceeds of crime.
At Beitbridge, some shipping agents known to have been beneficiaries of this smuggling ring have built massive houses and drive expensive luxurious and all-terrain cars.
Yesterday, it was difficult to ascertain whether or not owners of the vehicles whose names appeared in the advertorial had complied.
Most of the cars were handled by shipping agents, who may have connived with certain border officials.
The Customs and Excise Act provides for the prosecution of both the agent and the importer.
A subsection substituted by Act 29 of 1998 and by Act 17 of 1999, subtitled Liabilities of Agent and Principal, says an agent appointed by any master, pilot, importer or exporter, or any person who represents himself to any officer as the agent of any master, pilot, importer or exporter and is accepted as such by that officer, shall be liable for the fulfilment, in respect of the matter in question, of all obligations, including the payment of duty, imposed upon such master, pilot, importer or exporter.
“Every master, pilot, importer or exporter, or any owner of goods in a bonded warehouse, container depot or any manufacturer licenced in terms of section one hundred and twenty-eight shall be responsible for any act committed by any person acting in his place or on his behalf, whether the said act was done within Zimbabwe or beyond its boundaries, and the person so acting shall, if within Zimbabwe, likewise be liable to prosecution under this Act or any other law relating to customs or excise,” says the Act.
Chimanda said the ports with the largest number of smuggled vehicles were Beitbridge and Plumtree at the borders of South Africa and Botswana, respectively.
“The vehicles in question came through various borders, but mainly Beitbridge and Plumtree.
“The period covered for the vehicles in question is January to August 2019,” Chimanda said.
More vehicles are expected to be recalled as investigations widen.