HARARE There were reports last week that Savanna Tobacco was smuggling cigarettes into South Africa and that the company was making millions of dollars through the illegal trade.

The Daily News (DN) spoke to Savanna Tobacco (ST) over the issue.

DN There have been accusations in the South African media that Savanna Tobacco is involved in the smuggling of cigarettes to South Africa. Please give us your comment on this.

ST The accusations are patently false.

There is no iota of evidence by the media in question to back up this fictitious story.

One Stephen Botha, head of Forensic Security Services (FSS), telephoned Savanna s general manager in South Africa at the beginning of December promising revenge for the arrest of two of his service providers in Zimbabwe for espionage.

Upon further investigation, FSS and Botha have been proven to be service providers for a major competitor of ours.

The same competitor also funds the study that was the basis for this article. The connection becomes clear.

Fortunately, the whole conversation with Botha was recorded.

After failing to achieve the arrests as had been threatened, the strategy has then turned into a smear campaign against Savanna Tobacco.

DN Please give us a brief background to your tobacco business i.e. where you export and the quantities involved and what you produce for the local market?

ST Savanna was established as an EPZ company, now ZIA, and is mandated to export 80 percent of its product.

We export into South Africa and Zambia where we have registered companies.

Our export products carry all legally required revenue stamps and adhere to all applicable national laws.

Outside these, Savanna supplies third parties who then export and supply their various countries of origin.

Savanna produces approximately two billion cigarette sticks per annum, of which no more than 20 percent goes into the local market.

DN We have been informed that the tobacco in question, specifically your Pacific product meant for the local market is being smuggled to South Africa and other countries in the region, what exactly is happening?

ST Savanna Tobacco has only been in the cigarette manufacturing industry since 2004, while the issue of cigarette smuggling has been a global phenomenon for many decades now.

Madison and Everest are readily available in Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique.

DN How did they get there?

And is BAT being held accountable? Particularly since it has a long history of being implicated in global cigarette smuggling.

ST A quote from Kenneth Clarke, the former Chancellor of Britain, when he commented as vice chairman of BAT, after an investigation into BAT s global practices.

There is no evidence at all which I have ever seen to suggest that BAT is participating in this smuggling &#8230 The idea that BAT was knowingly supplying that channel &#8230 is nonsense &#8230 You can buy smuggled (BAT cigarettes) on the streets of Colombia and other cities, but BAT have not put them there&#8230

We act, completely within the law, on the basis that our brands will be available&#8230 in the smuggled as well as the legitimate market.

And he made a similar statement when he testified in Parliament.

The attempt to create an impression that cigarette smuggling is limited to the Pacific brand is wrong, and merely confirms a hidden agenda.

In addition, the article asserts that Pacific constitutes 10 percent of total smuggled cigarettes? Why not mention the other 90 percent?

DN If there are some cartels buying cigarettes from you and smuggling them to South Africa, is there a way of eradicating this challenge?

ST We are not aware of any smuggling cartel that exists.

However, there are cartels of another kind. The ones who control the industry, establish its rules, bar competitors, and destroy reputations to protect their wealth and monopolistic tendencies.

DN Recently, there was a huge furore over the espionage saga in which your rivals, BAT were named. Is this smuggling issue related to the espionage scandal?

ST The only saga worth talking about here is our purpose. Our purpose as a company is to ensure that every African smoker is able to access Zimbabwe s finest cigarettes

in hygienically sealed packs
to suit every income level.

Our finest quality cigarettes must positively impact upon the well being of those within our distribution channels and the communities in which they operate, creating profitable partnerships, within a cleaner environment, for all involved.

How competitors react to this, whether through espionage, smear campaigns, or threats, is immaterial.

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