ZIMBABWE is investigating possible industrial espionage amid reports that South African tobacco firms are hiring hijackers to pounce on export cigarette consignments in transit to that country. In the past year or so, indigenous producers exporting to South Africa lost an estimated R100
million worth of cigarettes to armed robbery syndicates.
Among the affected companies are Kingdom, Savanna Tobacco, Breco (Fodya), Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.
Savanna Tobacco has confirmed losing cigarettes worth over R18 million through hijackings and robberies while their warehouse in SA has been broken into several times.
Only British American Tobacco Company has been spared.
At least eight Zimbabweans were arrested at Savanna Tobacco in Harare on suspected espionage.
Cosygene Dekeya, a former army military intelligence operative and Edmore Muronzerei appeared in court last week.
After studying the state outline, Mbare Magistrates' Court area prosecutor Mr Austin Muziwi demanded thorough investigations into possible industrial espionage.
The suspects had been charged under the Private Investigations and Security Guards (Control) Act, which trivialised the offence.
Mr Muziwi has since written to the police advising them to carry out further investigations with a view to charging the pair with espionage.
The letter dated November 6, 2012 was also copied to the Attorney General's Office.
"The above accused was charged with C/S. 17(2) of the Private Investigations And Security Guards (Control) Act Cap. 27:10.
"When the case was referred to court, it was returned to station on the basis that the charge was inappropriate and further investigations needed to be carried out.
"The complainant is now in possession of new evidence which warrants the prosecution of the accused.
"Given that cases of industrial espionage are unique, the docket must be referred to CID Law and Order for further investigations," read one of the letters.
Police spokesperson Inspector Tedius Chibanda said he would give more details today.
Investigations by The Herald showed that the Tobacco Institute of South Africa contracted a security firm, Forensic Security Service, to monitor Zimbabwean cigarette manufacturers, whose brands are giving their South African counterparts stiff competi- tion.
Stephen Botha, a former apartheid military supremo owns Forensic Security Services, the company that allegedly recruited spies within the workforce of Zimbabwean cigarette manufacturers.
The spies allegedly supply consignment export details, enabling the cartel to track, intercept and highjack.
FSS is said to have engaged a local business mogul (name supplied) who owns one of the largest courier service companies to co-ordinate the spies and their payments.
The mogul's trucks have also been highjacked in what might turn out to be inside jobs.
Local companies now suspect BAT of being behind the formation of TISA, which has since been regionalised.
Savanna Tobacco executive chairman Mr Adam Molai said it was shocking that South Africans were infiltrating local security organisations to commit economic crimes and bleed the economy.
"It is deplorable, you cannot have foreign agencies working for our competitors to distabilise our operations in Zimbabwe.
"We hope our authorities will ensure that issues of this nature are dealt with accordingly," said Mr Molai.
Trednet administrative manager Mr Graham Acutt said his company had reduced production by 70 percent.
"We are aware of the under cover operations for quite some time now. This is tantamount to industrial espionage and it is highly illegal and frowned upon the world over.
"Imagine people spying on you and following your consignment. It becomes sensitive and clients will stop buying your product," he said
Mr Acutt said he was aware that police were investigating and he was willing to assist as much as he could.
"We need more help from the authorities in Zimbabwe to investigate those who are actually behind this. We will assist where we can.
"This espionage has compromised our ability to export and obviously to earn foreign currency for the country," he said.
Mr Acutt said cigarette producers were big exporters regionally and internationally.
"Zimbabwe cigarettes are of high quality and supplied at a competitive price, which gives our competitors interest to make it difficult for our operations," said Mr Acutt.
Breco, which is now trading as Fodya said their market intelligence has over time indicated that there were clandestine activities being undertaken by some organisations to disrupt their business.
"We understand most companies in this industry experienced this form of activity in one form or another," said
Breco in an e-mail to The Herald.
"What is most alarming is that some of the organisations involved in these activities are externally-based and being assisted by local Zimbabweans.
"If the activities of these institutions or organisations are the real basis for our reduced capacity, then it is illegal," it said.
"It would be on this basis that we would seek legal advice, going forward.
"We cannot say categorically how these organisations or institutions operate as we are still gathering information, but we know for a fact that information was being sourced from our own employees, for the benefit of our competitors and or some other external organisations, for competitive reasons."
The decline in export earnings resulting from the incidents, said Fodya, was costly to the company and the country at large.
"We don't know what the driving force for this activity is but competition within the industry cannot be ruled out.
"We are no doubt sharing information with other indigenous organisations but what is clear is that the level of internal information gathering, being leaked to outside institutions is very consistent.
"It is this that is unacceptable for us for which we will seek legal and political recourse," said Fodya.