POLICE yesterday confirmed that they were investigating possible industrial espionage involving more than R100 million worth of cigarettes amid revelations that a South African company, Forensic Security Services, accused of spying on local manufacturers, has a running contract with a local private investigating firm.
Fresh details reveal that Forensic Security Services signed a contract with Ticoz Protection Services to spy on indigenous cigarette manufacturing firms.
The resultant information was used in hijacking export cigarettes in transit.
Yesterday police spokesperson Inspector Tadius Chibanda said police had launched investigations and were compiling the findings.
"We are investigating the case. We, however, cannot give you further details at the moment because that might prejudice our investigations," he said.
Ticoz Protection Services operations director Mr Tarwireyi Tirivavi yesterday confirmed having a running contract with Forensic Security Services but said the investigations his company made for the SA company had nothing to do with espionage.
"That company (Forensic Security Services) is involved in the investigation of illicit (sic) cigarette smuggling.
"Our contract is based on investigating the smuggling of cigarettes. We work with the police Border Control Unit and Zimra officials whom we supply with information for them to make arrests. We are not into espionage," said Mr Tirivavi, a former policeman.
Ironically, one of the Ticoz co-directors, Cosygene Dekeya, has been arrested and is facing prosecution for espionage. Dekeya, who had initially been charged with a lesser crime of breaching the Private Investigations and Security Guards (Control) Act, will be freshly charged after Mbare area prosecutor Mr Austin Muziwi said his case bordered on industrial espionage.
Industrial espionage is a more serious offence. Mr Tirivavi could, however, not shed light on why Dekeya was arrested and charged.
He said most of the smuggled cigarettes were stashed in fuel tanks and false compartments of haulage trucks.
"It is the clients of these companies that smuggle cigarettes out of the country through undesignated crossing points, such as Sango Border Post, Gonarezhou (National Park), Burma Valley and Limpopo," said Mr Tirivavi.
Investigations started after indigenous cigarette exporters complained that they had lost an estimated R100 million worth of cigarettes to armed robbery syndicates hired to hijack consignments in transit to that country.
Among the companies affected are Savanna Tobacco, Kingdom, Breco -- trading as Fodya (Private) Ltd, Cutrag, Trednet and Chelsea.
Only BAT products are spared from the organised robberies.
Forensic Security Services headed by Botha, a former apartheid military supremo, and his business partners -- Craig Bell-Roberts and Ian McDemid -- are alleged to be the brains behind the company's under-cover operations which reportedly span the entire Sadc region. In the case of Zimbabwe, they allegedly recruited former army and police men and within the workforce of such firms.
The spies supply consignment export details enabling the cartel to track, intercept and hijack vehicles carrying the cigarettes. Forensic Security Services is also said to have engaged a local business tycoon (name supplied) who owns one of the country's largest courier service companies to co-ordinate the spies and their payments.