NATIONAL NEWS - Several illicit cigarette dealers, who all spoke to Rekord on condition of anonymity, have accused Rietgat police of accepting bribes and stealing their “products”.
A cigarette dealer, who trades at the Mabopane station, said the business of illegal cigarettes was “very fast” but also “very risky” as they were playing a cat and mouse game with police officers.
“The profit you make is not a lot,” he said.
“A carton is R350-R400, depending on the person who brings them here. The only profit I make is R50 if I bought the carton from a person who charged me R400. But sometimes you get lucky and someone buys 10 cartons at a go.”
He said the ban on cigarettes by the government has prompted the increase in prices.
The dealer said a single illicit cigarette cost R3 each, whereas it was R1 before the lockdown.
“People who benefit the most from selling cigarettes are spaza shop owners.
“They buy stock from us and sell individual cigarettes for R5-R6 each. Their risk is minimal because the cops never bother them.”
Another dealer told Rekord that he was extorted by police whenever he got caught.
He claimed he has been caught “a few times” but has never been arrested once.
“All they do is take your money or take your cigarettes – they never arrest you. If you do not have enough money, they take the cigarettes and sell them to someone else.”
He wanted to start something else because the sale of illicit cigarettes “was getting crowded”.
“It is simply not profitable anymore. There’s a lot more people selling now than there were in level 5 of the lockdown. During level 5, we were selling cigarettes for R6-R8 each. Profits are dropping all the time. For example, if I buy a carton for R400 and I make R50 profit and I then get caught by police, who take everything, it means that I have lost R400 for R50.”
A man who sells shoes at the station alleged that police took his stock and was told that he was supposed to give them R3 000 if he wanted them back during a raid last week.
“They told me I was selling fake shoes. I did not have the money at the time. I have seen the same shoes being sold here by someone else. I suspect he might have bought it from them.”
A queue marshal at the station said drug dealers and smokers have been doing as they please since the beginning of the lockdown without any consequences.
“You’d be surprised by what I see here every day,” he told Rekord.
“Police are seen every day entering a well-known drug shack, which houses nyaope addicts and dealers.
“The only difference between the lawbreakers and the police is the uniform. Police have turned into criminals in uniform. The cops know exactly what is happening here. We are literally in the same building as the police station.”
Police spokesperson Captain Stephen Maluleka said that “so far no one has opened a case for having fallen victim of such practices”.
“We, however, urge residents to come forth and to report any officers who take advantage of poor residents. As the police, we are very clear on corruption. We condemn any acts of corruption within the service.”
He said police had, as part of enforcing Covid-19 emergency lockdown, deployed spotters around the precinct to help identify problem areas to curb the trade of illicit tobacco products.
Maluleka said police did arrest two suspects last week, for trading in illicit tobacco products during a sting operation.