Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
POLICE in Bulawayo yesterday busted a vehicle smuggling racket, arresting three suspects and recovering three luxury vehicles, which were smuggled into Zimbabwe via Limpopo River.
The three suspects, one of them a South African, were arrested in Bulawayo by traffic police who were patrolling the city centre.
The recovered vehicles, a Toyota Hilux 2.4 GD6 RB and two latest ranges of Toyota Fortuner 2.8 GD-6 RB VX DSL, have South African number plates and are suspected to have been stolen from the neighbouring country.
The value of the three could not be ascertained.
In South Africa, a Toyota Hilux 2.4 GD6 RB costs slightly above R500 000 while the market price for a Fortuner 2.8 GD-6 RB VX DSL is about R800 000.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said they first arrested Nkosiyabo Mbambo (29) during a patrol in the city centre and he led them to his accomplices Nomathemba Ncube (40) and Karl Hebst (27), the South African.
“Our traffic officers were on patrol when they intercepted Nkosiyabo Mlambo while he was driving a Toyota Hilux GD6.
Upon checking the papers of the car, they became suspicious and subsequently contacted their superiors before they arrested him,” he said.
“Further investigations were conducted leading to the other two suspects at some lodges in Bulawayo where they were booked.”
Investigations by police established that upon arrival at the illegal crossing points along the Limpopo River, the suspects deflate tyres so that they are able to navigate the river.
After crossing the river, they then put pressure and proceed.
“We also established that it was not their first time to smuggle cars using the same modus operandi and we strongly suspect that they could be operating as a syndicate involving others.
We have therefore intensified our investigations,” said Insp Ncube.
He said the three suspects are facing charges of smuggling.
“They are being charged with smuggling, but there is a likelihood that more charges would be brought up as we continue with our investigations to establish how the cars were acquired,” said Insp Ncube.
The latest arrest comes barely a week after the National Security Task Force intercepted and impounded five vehicles laden with smuggled goods as the Government scales up efforts to crack down on crime along the border with South Africa.
Five people were arrested in connection with the matter while the four kombis, a Hino truck and the contraband were seized by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra).
Several Zimbabweans and other nationals have been nabbed for trying to smuggle cars stolen in South Africa through the Beitbridge Border Post into Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and other regional countries.
In some cases, vehicle trafficking syndicates smuggle the stolen cars through the Limpopo River where donkeys are used to pull the vehicle across the river into Zimbabwe.
Smuggling of vehicles and other contraband is rampant due to the country’s porous borders.