Six South African soldiers who were in the habit of collecting R15 000 to facilitate the smuggling of stolen vehicles into Zimbabwe have been arrested by that country's elite police, the Hawks.
The six were picked up on Monday in North West, Northern Cape and Free State provinces after having been put on the police radar since 2017.
Hawks spokesperson for Limpopo Province, Captain Matimba Maluleke, said the gang was investigated between 2017 and 2019 under an intelligence operation dubbed "Night Vigil".
He said the army men were working with cross-border car smugglers when deployed along the border with Zimbabwe.
The gang is alleged to be part of a syndicate that saw dozens of vehicles being smuggled into Zimbabwe through the Limpopo River, en-route to Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Capt Maluleke said they had also roped in the Crime Intelligence, National Intervention Unit and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) throughout the operation.
"The suspects are aged between 30 and 51 and were arrested on Monday 21 June 2021 for the alleged corruption," he said.
"They were deployed at Beitbridge Border Post to defend and protect the territorial integrity of the Republic of South Africa between 2017 and 2019.
"Instead of carrying out their constitutional mandate of ensuring national security at the borders, they allegedly connived with vehicle smuggling syndicates to smuggle stolen vehicles through the Limpopo River in exchange for money."
Capt Maluleke said the soldiers would demand R15 000 per vehicle from the smugglers and they would share the proceeds.
He said the suspects' ranks range from Lance-Corporal to Private.
The six will appear at the Musina Magistrates Court today.
Hawks national head of the directorate for priority crime investigation, Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya commended the investigators for their commitment to fighting crime collectively.
"We certainly hope that our joint team efforts will inspire confidence in the entire civil servant and the South African community at large.
Those who are entrusted with the responsibility to protect and serve must never be tempted by dirty money from organised criminal groups, otherwise, the lessons will be learnt the hard way", he said
In the last 10 years, South African and Zimbabwean security officials have intercepted over 100 stolen vehicles being smuggled across the Limpopo destined for Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania.
In 2012, Zimbabwean police smashed a well-orchestrated car smuggling syndicate near the Panda Mine area and arrested seven Malawians and recovered five top-of-the-range vehicles.
The vehicles include; two Toyota Fortuners, one Nissan Navarra, Toyota High Rider, and a Toyota Vigo all worth 4 million Rand.
It is reported that some of these syndicates are linked to security personnel manning the border and officials, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), and the Central Vehicle Registry (CVR).
The officials are alleged to be facilitating the smuggling and registration processes.