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Lesotho sees surge in illicit cigarette trade

Police spokesperson Supt Mpiti Mopeli

July 29, 2020 2 min read

BEREA – Vast majority of cigarette buyers both local and South African have lost thousands of maloti to bogus suppliers who take advantage of the rapidly elevating demand of tobacco.

Lesotho police have this week warned that people who seek to buy cigarettes in large quantities are frequently falling prey to deceptive sellers especially in Maputsoe, Leribe and in the capital Maseru. The police have therefore appealed to business community to be more vigilant.

Police reports show that other victims have lost monies amounting up to M50 000 while others opted to not report to the police after they were robbed in various set-up traps.

“Just this week, three police constables appeared before the Berea Magistrate Court on July 27 accused of aggravated theft whereby they allegedly robbed a civilian M24 000 in Berea on July 18. A buyer Tšepo Raliqa, 21, was attempting to purchase boxes of cigarettes from a house in Ha Ratšiu when the accused police officers raided the house, attacked and slapped the sellers and took by force the money instead of arresting those found effecting an illicit trade of tobacco,” explained police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli.

The trio suspects - Police Constables Thabo Seobi, 39, Poulo Cheli, 39, and Rankali Rankali, 36, (in whose possession the stolen money was found), were remanded to reappear before the same court on August 11 after being released on a M500 bail each.

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“Bogus or staged trade emerges as a result of tobacco scarcity in the country, this is due to the closed border gates between Lesotho and SA, amid the coronavirus outbreak that has also brought along a ban on cigarette trade in SA,” Supt Mpiti said.

SA has banned the sale of cigarette in a bid to scale-down the spread of COVID-19 because some smokers share sticks and that exposes them to infection through saliva.

“Some victims come from South Africa and cross the rivers to fetch tobacco in Lesotho. People must be aware that there is no place currently producing cigarettes in Lesotho,” added Supt Mopeli.

Raliqa who was buying cigarettes and his friend Tumelo Maseli both from Maputsoe, were also accused of conspiring with the charged police officers in an illicit trade of tobacco.

Mpiti further showed that with the fluctuating prices of cigarette in the country, people are seeing an opportunity to start businesses by collecting it in large numbers, hence they easily fall victim to several traps.

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