By Romeo Takundwa
An Abalone smuggling syndicate was recently nabbed after using Zimbabwe as a transit route for the valuable marine snails from South Africa to Asia and other African countries.
Recently, on two separate occasions, over 400kg of Abalone were intercepted at Beitbridge Border post and at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare.
The cargo intercepted at RG International Airport was destined for China while the one intercepted at Beitbridge port was destined for Zambia.
In both instances, the dried Abalone was seized by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) under the Customs and Excise Act.
Frank Matavise and Rockdont-Yang Kasese were arrested at Beitbridge Border post and their South African registered truck impounded. They were taken to court and granted bail by a Beitbridge magistrate.
The owners of the cargo that was confiscated at Beitbridge border post approached the High Court, and a ruling by Justice Webster Chinamora made on the 7th of July ordered ZIMRA to release the smuggled goods to the accused. The High Court also ordered ZIMRA to escort the truck to Chirundu. The High Court ruling raises suspicion that this could be a well-oiled syndicate involving various arms of the state and agencies of the government. According to papers seen by Bustop TV, on 8 July, Samkange Hungwe attorneys wrote to ZIMRA demanding release of the cargo.
Information gathered by this publication reveals that the duo declared the Abalone as noodles in their papers which were submitted to ZIMRA. They however, failed to produce export permits issued by South African authorities, leading to their arrest.
There are also revelations that one of the accused had an expired passport but was still granted bail. According to state papers, the two are facing charges of smuggling and possession of fake documents purportedly coming from the neighbouring South Africa enroute to Zambia.
In a separate incident, In June, more than 400kg of Abalone were intercepted at Robert Mugabe International Airport aboard an Emirates plane destined for Dubai.
Although Zimbabwe does not have this sea shellfish, the discovery of Abalone shows the seriousness of smuggling of wildlife products globally and exposes the country as a possibly willing transit route.
Since 2000, according to a report by Traffic, poaching syndicates have smuggled more than 96 million Abalone to Hong Kong, the epicenter of the trade. This equates to nearly 15,000 of the shellfish illegally harvested each day.
Abalone is a family of reef-dwelling marine snails which are a lucrative export commercial fishery and can sell between USD700 and USD2000 per kilogram.