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Imported car smugglers bleed Treasury

By Henry Mhara The shiny limousines and ramshackle taxis that share Zimbabwe’s roads have one thing in common — both sets are among thousands of vehicles that are smuggled into the country annually, prejudicing the national Treasury millions of dollars in taxes. With the local car assembly industry hardly operating, Zimbabweans have been forced to import cars and figures from the government statistics office ZimStats show that more than US$5 billion has been spent on vehicle imports since 2009. But some of the cars are brought into the southern African nation illegally by corrupt importers who undervalue their cars in connivance with clearing agents, law enforcement agents and government officials, according to recent court records. An expert in the sector says Zimbabwe is losing about US$5 million every year to smuggling, under-invoicing of car imports, money which could be used to procure national essentials such as drugs. “We are struggling economically and in these desperate times, we could be using this money for COVID-19,” said the official from the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), who declined to be named. Zimbabwe is battling to finance its already ailing health sector to deal with coronavirus as local cases continue to rise. In a letter to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube in June this year said Zimbabwe needed at least US$200 million to fight the pandemic. Official statistics show that on average 4 000 new and pre-owned vehicles imported from countries such as Japan, Britain and South Africa are cleared through Beitbridge Border Post every month with Zimra collecting at least US$8,5 million in taxes. Zimra is currently charging up to 96% duty for used car imports, so on average a modest vehicle attracts import duty of between $2 500 and $5 000. Beitbridge, on Zimbabwe’s border with South Africa, is southern Africa’s biggest inland port. While Zimra officials have not been available to discuss details of vehicle smuggling, one major indicator of the problem are some recent high-profile court cases involving a top government official and a businessman. Former principal director for State Residences in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Douglas Tapfuma, was jailed for four years in June after being convicted on three counts of criminal abuse of office by fraudulently importing eight vehicles duty-free. Businessman Genius “Ginimbi” Kadungure, who has a collection of top of the range sports cars, was recently convicted of under-declaring the price of his Bentley Continental GT bought from South Africa last year and of paying US$81 000 in import duty instead of nearly $140 000. This scam was a classic case of trade misinvoicing, which is responsible for a substantial proportion of illicit financial flows around the world. According to US-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI), trade misinvoicing cost Zimbabwe US$1 billion over a 10-year period, indicating the lack of adequate detecting systems in the country’s trade systems. GFI se

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