Armed robberies surge as criminals target tobacco products: Batsa

British American Tobacco SA is alarmed by the huge increase in armed robberies targeting its products.
British American Tobacco SA is alarmed by the huge increase in armed robberies targeting its products.
Image: 123rf.com/ marcbruxelle

British American Tobacco SA (Batsa) says it is alarmed by the record increase in armed robberies targeting its products, which it says is stoking organised crime and fuelling the illicit cigarettes trade.

Since the lifting of the lockdown sales ban, armed robberies of Batsa cigarettes in transit have soared compared to incidents during the first quarter of 2020, the company said.

Batsa says it notifies the police of all such crimes and was urging increased vigilance to counter this menace, which is a drain on the South African fiscus as well as on Batsa’s operating revenues.

“This alarming increase in criminals targeting our products should be of major concern to the authorities.      

“In the first quarter of 2020, armed robbers stole 1,195 cartons per month (239,000 individual cigarettes) of our products. We obviously had no robberies during the tobacco sales ban as we were not transporting products. When the ban was lifted, on a monthly average 2,845 cartons of cigarettes (569,000 individual cigarettes) were stolen during armed attacks on our distribution vehicles. And this despite increased security measures.

“In February 2020, the last full month before the lockdown ban, there were four such robberies. In September, the first full month after the ban was lifted, there were 12, a fourfold increase.”  said Johnny Moloto, Batsa’s general manager.

Batsa says it has reported a year-on-year drop in the incidence of armed robberies in the two years before 2020, which can be attributed to increased protection measures put in place by the company.

“The lockdown sales ban led to an explosion in the illicit trade and the increased involvement of organised crime syndicates,” said Moloto.

“The ban also normalised the purchase of illicit cigarettes by SA’s 11 million smokers. Since the ban, we have seen a dramatic growth in the sale of illicit cigarettes in mainstream outlets, which can also be attributed to the economic hardship being suffered by South Africans.

“Batsa continues to be transparent and supports all law-enforcement activities in the prevention of crime. As is required by law in SA, all robberies against Batsa are reported to the police with the aim of achieving arrests of criminals targeting our business, as well as recovering stock and preventing it from entering the illicit supply chain.

“Batsa supports all efforts to combat the illicit market and is fully compliant with the latest production counter regulations, which should give tax officials oversight of every cigarette made in SA.

“Batsa calls for all other cigarette manufacturers to comply with these regulations.”

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