Millions seized in abalone bust

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pretoria - The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has confiscated R4 million worth of abalone at the weekend.

SARS investigators confiscated the 1.6 million tonnes of abalone worth an estimated R4 million that was in the process of being smuggled out of the country on a commercial container vessel.

"For only the second time in the history of law enforcement in the country a shipping vessel suspected of carrying illicit goods was forced to return to South Africa for inspection after SARS issued a Detention Order in terms of the Customs and Excise Act.

"The Detention Order was served on the shipping agents and legally compelled the vessel to return to South Africa," said SARS spokesperson Adrian Lackay on Monday.

At the time of serving the Order, the vessel was about one day away from its destination of Hong Kong.

SARS had previously received information that freight containers on two vessels destined for Hong-Kong were carrying abalone that was poached off the South African coastline. The first of the two vessels to return to the country docked at the Cape Town harbour on Saturday.

The SARS investigators were joined by the South African Police Services (SAPS) and investigators from the Fisheries division of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in detaining and searching the containers.

"The 1.6 million tonnes of smuggled abalone was confiscated and stored at the State Ware House while investigations continue. The second vessel is expected to return to South African waters later next week for inspection," said Lackay.

The Revenue Services has also established that the suspects had ordered a third container to be used for another export of abalone from South Africa but that the order had been cancelled after SARS issued the Detention Orders.

"Investigations to date clearly indicate that there remain strong links between abalone poaching, illicit trade networks, corruption and racketeering. Criminal syndicates are known to exploit vulnerable coastal communities where residents serve as poachers for abalone destined for a growing international market," he said.

In October 2006, law enforcement agencies in the country set international precedence when a container vessel was rerouted back to South Africa for the first time on suspicion that it carried containers of smuggled abalone.

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