Alcohol and Containment: The Great Booze Heist

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Thieves are increasingly targeting liquor depots and delivery trucks in precisely planned attacks, seizing large amounts of alcohol and pushing them into the already worth more illicit market. of 20 billion rand.

This adds to the problem of stolen and looted liquor stores – crimes that escalated when heavy alcohol restrictions were in place in South Africa. Ranging from a total alcohol ban to limited sale times, restrictions have been sporadically implemented in the country since March 2020 as part of the government’s Covid-19 lockdown measures.

When access to alcohol was restricted in an attempt to ease the pressure on admissions to hospitals and trauma wards, alcohol became an even more lucrative commodity for criminals.

The liquor industry fears that stricter alcohol restrictions will be reapplied during the 2021/22 holiday period as cases of Covid-19 increase. They say the restrictions not only negatively affect their businesses at a generally booming time of year, but also increase the likelihood of criminals targeting alcohol businesses.

Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the National Coronavirus Command Council will meet soon. After that, revised lockdown regulations will likely be announced.

Criminals have targeted South African breweries (SABs). This week, the world’s second-largest brewer pleaded with the government not to impose another alcohol ban.

Industry bodies, including the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) and the representative body of wine producers Vinpro, have turned to the courts to challenge issues relating to alcohol bans linked to Covid. Vinpro failed in its quest this week, with the High Court in the Western Cape finding the restrictions to be reasonable.

Basa Chief Executive Officer Patricia Pillay, in her affidavit in a case before the High Court in Pretoria, said that besides numerous job losses, another “glaring and fundamental side effect of alcohol bans has was the trade in illicit alcoholic products that spawned and flourished … [and] also deprived the South African Revenue Service of much needed tax revenue ”.

To avoid becoming the target of crooks, DM168 understands that some large liquor companies have transported smaller amounts of inventory in vehicles instead of trucks and use armed escorts. Security has also been enhanced at liquor outlets as well as warehouses and other storage facilities.

At the same time, there are concerns that, given the precision of the attacks, corrupt police and private security personnel may work with the criminals. Some police officers have already been arrested on suspicion of being involved in alcohol theft.

Due to the sensitivity of incident investigations and to avoid drawing unwanted attention to their businesses, the liquor retailers approached by DM168 declined to speak officially. While it’s not clear exactly how many storage facilities or alcohol in transit shipments have been targeted recently, several industry insiders have said they’ve noted that “finely-planned attacks” are on the rise.

SAB spokesman Kanyisa Ndyondya confirmed to DM168 that thieves had targeted the company.

“Although we have had a few attempts on our business, these were unsuccessful due to our strict security protocols and measures,” she said. “The SAB is aware of the recent increase in attempted thefts targeting alcohol storage facilities and the reported increase in diverted charges in transit. “

She said it was suspected that South Africa’s four rounds of alcohol restrictions had fueled the illicit trade.

“We call on the government not to impose more bans because of the negative impact these have on our industry and the economy, as illicit trade is both unregulated and untaxed,” said Ndyondya.

Pamela Nkuna, president of the South African Liquor Brandowners’ Association (Salba), admitted that the attacks appeared to be increasing.

She said: “In the past two months we have become aware of two warehouses that were part of well-orchestrated armed robberies, which indicates an upsurge in these incidents. “

Nkuna added that there was a range of reasons the depots were being targeted.

“The growth of illicit trade and possible additional foreclosure restrictions, as well as… the holiday season are all contributing factors,” Nkuna said. “There is a clear correlation between banning the sale and increasing demand for illicit alcohol.”

We are aware of an increase in thefts from distribution centers and warehouses. It can only be assumed that the majority of these [are] due to local sales bans, as they generally tend to fall within these times. Anyone can guess where the alcohol ends up, but, given the bans, it’s likely to just be sold locally on the black market.

She referred to a report commissioned by Euromonitor International, Illicit Trade: Alcoholic Drinks in South Africa in 2020, which shows that alcohol smuggling was one of the fastest growing categories of the illicit alcohol trade. ‘last year. There are high profit margins on spirits.

“The illicit alcohol trade has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 17% since 2017 and now stands at 12% of the industry’s total market value of Rand 177.2 billion. By 2026, the illicit market will be worth 44.5 billion rand, ”Nkuna said.

“The loss to the fiscus is staggering. According to the report, the illicit alcohol market in 2020 was worth 20.5 billion rand, 42% of which is attributed to smuggling. The loss to the fiscus was R11.3 billion, 39% of which is attributed to smuggling. “

Most of the stolen alcohol is likely to be re-injected into the local market, with only a small amount being smuggled into neighboring countries.

Dennis Matsane, spokesperson for alcohol producer and distributor Distell, said his company’s views were aligned with those of Salba. Before Covid-19, he said, there had been fewer thefts and recent crimes seemed more opportunistic.

“The alcohol restrictions imposed by the lockdown have made alcoholic products a target for organized crime, leading to an increased incidence of alcohol-related theft – such as the hijacking of our trucks – and [it has] gave rise to new cases of theft, such as attacks on depots, ”added Matsane.

When speculation about tighter lockdowns circulates, it appears that thefts and hijacking attempts are on the rise.

Matsane said an increase in armed robberies equates to an increase in “the potential for death.”

Maryna Calow, communications manager for Wines of South Africa, an organization that promotes exports, also acknowledged an increase in incidents.

“We are aware of an increase in thefts from distribution centers and warehouses. It can only be assumed that the majority of these [are] due to local sales bans, as they generally tend to fall in those times, ”she said. “Where the alcohol ends up is a conundrum, but given the bans it is likely to just be sold locally on the black market. “

An incident in January 2021 hints at the planning and coordination that goes into bulk alcohol looting.

A Kempton Park depot was targeted, with thieves apparently using a convoy of six trucks in the heist.

In the same month, Cape Town police cracked down on the illegal sale of alcohol stored in the Airport Industria area.

“Inside the premises … police discovered a storage facility equipped with security uniforms, safes, forklifts and other boxes of alcohol,” police said in a statement to the ‘era.

A suspect was arrested in Mpumalanga this week on suspicion of being behind several robberies in businesses, including a liquor store.

During the thefts, police said, explosives were detonated and “an undisclosed sum of money and a large volume of alcoholic beverages were stolen.”

This week, National Police spokesman Vish Naidoo said alcohol thefts were recorded as thefts.

Since the analysis of threats and trends in crime was carried out at the provincial level, he said he was “not in a position to comment on this at that level”.

A police-related source, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of such cases, explained that unions were often linked to the thefts or were part of the gangs behind the theft of alcohol consignments.

When trucks carrying shipments of alcohol are hijacked, police usually have a short window to intercept criminals.

Indeed, according to the source, the crooks quickly remove the container part in which the alcohol is stored from the rest of the vehicle.

They then attach the container to a new vehicle in an attempt to “confuse” the authorities.

DM168 also established that in the Western Cape, which is widely known as the gangster capital of South Africa, there was suspicion that gangs, such as the 28, were involved in liquor store robberies.

Members store stolen alcohol on premises in their strongholds and inject it into the black market.

In April 2020, shortly after a total alcohol ban was imposed, Police Minister Bheki Cele said there appeared to be a union in the Western Cape targeting stores of alcohols.

He also alluded to the collusion between store owners, cops and criminals.

Cele was quoted by SABC News: “We find an organization with the owners of these bottle stores who are meeting with the criminals to increase their stock. That’s what happened.

“We arrested our own police who were working with the backstop in this particular area. We take care of it.

“We have to be tough like SAPS because some of this alcohol always finds its way into the underground and illegal shebeens.”

In May 2020, the Minister of Police also reported alcohol-related organized crime issues.

Cele reported that there had been an increase in smuggling, including alcohol, “between South Africa’s land borders with Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, as well as the sale of these products on the black market ”. DM168

ALCOHOL BAN INCREASES ALCOHOLIC CRIME

Two police officers were injured when a heist of a liquor truck was foiled in the Eastern Cape in February. Three suspects were arrested.

A truck full of alcohol in Cape Town was intercepted in early 2021 as part of an operation to crack down on the black market trade.

The South African tax service and police discovered a warehouse in Mpumalanga where duty-free liquor valued at R15 million was kept. The alcohol was intended for the foreign market. – South African Police Service and South African Tax Service

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 which is available for R25 from Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest dealer, please click here.

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