By NQOBANI NDLOVU
A case of theft of a vehicle at Plumtree Border Post could have exposed a vehicle smuggling racket after the car was recovered in Harare at the residence of a man once accused of importing cars under unclear circumstances.
Plumtree car dealer Sharmaine Mlambo (33) was recently arrested for allegedly stealing a Honda Fit vehicle belonging to Marita Mangani (36) from Bulawayo who had imported it from neighbouring South Africa.
Mlambo, using her links with clearing agents at the border post and at the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), reportedly cleared the vehicle and paid all duty fees without the knowledge of Mangani.
The offence, which was committed between March 20 and 23, only came to light when Mangani went to Plumtree Border Post to collect her new wheels only to find the car had been cleared and taken away.
Police recovered the vehicle in Harare at Tafadzwa Chidewe’s residence. In November 2019, Chidewe was cited in a Zimra public notice as among individuals who had imported a total of 433 cars under unclear circumstances.
Chidewe had reportedly imported a Toyota Hilux double cab (vehicle registration and chassis number AFE 3496 and AHTEZ39GX07034955 respectively).
“The commissioner-general of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority is hereby notifying the owners of vehicles listed below to visit Zimra Loss Control Offices at ZB Centre corner First Street and Kwame Nkrumah in Harare for vehicle registration verification. The vehicle owners are instructed to bring the vehicles together with all customs clearance documents pertaining to their vehicles on or before November 23, 2019,” the Zimra notice reads in part.
In the notice, a number of individuals were cited as having imported over five vehicles each under unclear circumstances.
In the latest case, Mlambo is accused of having obtained a proforma invoice pertaining to Mangani’s vehicle that she bought on March 1, at CarMax Africa, a private company based in Durban, South Africa, to facilitate its clearance.
According to the state, Mlambo later fixed the imported pre-clearance of the vehicle at Zimra Plumtree Border Post and paid duty before driving away with it, prompting the matter to be reported to police leading to her arrest.
“On March 20, the accused obtained a proforma invoice in respect of the complainant’s stolen motor vehicle from the same company…and was issued with the proforma invoice number 1431, but this was not meant to be proof of payment of the motor vehicle,” the state outline reads.
“On March 23, the accused did import pre-clearance of the complainant’s motor vehicle at Zimra Plumtree Border Post and paid duty in that regard. On March 30, complainant’s motor vehicle arrived at Plumtree Border Post under the complainant’s name according to the Customs and Excise cargo manifest and was altered by the accused into her name. The accused went on to process the final clearance and took into her own possession, complaint’s motor vehicle without her consent.”
Mlambo, who is out on bail, appeared in court on Thursday before Plumtree magistrate Tayengwa Chibanda facing theft charges as defined in Section 113(1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Chibanda set a date in June for the commencement of her trial. The regional magistrate also revealed that the State had dropped charges against Mlambo’s co-accused Blessing Rambanepasi, who is now the state witness in the matter.
Rambanepasi is a clearing agent at Plumtree Border Post and had faced charges of facilitating the theft of the vehicle worth US$1 400 which is now in the custody of the police as an exhibit.
Cases of vehicle smuggling are rampant with Zimbabwe seen as a transit route for vehicles stolen in South Africa for re-sale in countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and other regional countries.