14 years jail for Zimra official over US$500,000 fraud

ZIMRA car smuggler - Semkelwe Maphosa
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A Plumtree-based Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) officer linked to a car smuggling racket that defrauded the revenue collector of more than US$530 000 was yesterday sentenced to 14 years in jail for fraud involving 39 cars.

Semkelwe Maphosa committed the crimes between January and July last year by forging Customs Clearance Certificates for different types of vehicles worth millions of dollars.

Maphosa is suspected to be part of a criminal syndicate involving another Zimra official, Norest Ushe (29) who was arrested and has since appeared in court for fraud charges of over US$430 000 and $1,4 million.

The case involving Ushe, who is accused of fraudulently clearing 50 cars into the Zimra capturing system without officially charging duty, is still pending before the court.

Maphosa worked at the Zimra registry and was responsible for typing customs clearance certificates.

She allegedly forged her superiors’ signatures on the certificates.

Maphosa went into hiding before police officers got wind of her whereabouts and arrested her at her hideout.

She was convicted on 39 counts of fraud and acquitted on one count by Plumtree regional magistrate Mr Bishard Chineke who sentenced her to 14 years imprisonment.

For the purposes of sentencing, the counts were grouped into two.

For count 1-20, Maphosa was sentenced to eight years and was acquitted on count 25. She was slapped with six years in jail for the remaining 19 counts.

Of the 14 years, five years were suspended for five years on condition that she doesn’t commit a similar offence within that period. A further three years were suspended on condition Maphosa restituted to Zimra $1 305 345,68 by December 30 this year.

In passing the sentence, Mr Chineke said the accused person committed a serious offence which warrants a lengthy custodial sentence.

“Fraud is a very serious crime and what makes this offence even more serious is the number of counts, which are just too much and it shows that it was carefully planned. The amount of level of prejudice is high, which means she benefitted immensely,” he said.

The magistrate said Maphosa betrayed the trust bestowed upon her by her employer.

“Accused defrauded her employer on several occasions showing more of greed than necessity. Corruption is a cancer in Zimbabwe and those who commit such offences deserve lengthy custodial sentences,” ruled Mr Chineke.

He said although Maphosa is of ill health, her conduct of defrauding her employer “to raise money for medication” was not an excuse to commit the offence.

Prosecuting, Mr Robin Mukura said January 7 and July 25 last year, at Plumtree Border Post, Maphosa issued customs clearance certificates (CCC) using the Zimra computerised system for 39 cars which had been smuggled into the country.

This prejudiced Zimra of US$536 980,05 and $768 365,63 in potential revenue.

The luxury cars, worth millions of dollars, which were smuggled include various models such as Mercedes Benz, Isuzu, Landrover Discovery, Toyota Hilux, Nissan, Lexus, Mazda, Hummer H3, Jeep Grand

Cherokee, Ford Ranger, BMW, Audi Q7, Toyota Fortuner, and Toyota Quantum among others.

“Between January 7 and July 25 last year, Maphosa clandestinely captured into the Zimra system information on 39 cars smuggled into the country thereby generating an equipment number which if punched would display the particulars of the vehicle and enable printing CCC on the serialised forms at any Zimra station or printing of protected format document on bond paper,” said Mr Mukura.

The court heard that Maphosa continued capturing data of the smuggled vehicles and facilitated their registration until when her password was deactivated following investigations.

Investigations were conducted and it was established that Maphosa fraudulently entered 39 smuggled cars into the Zimra system.

In mitigation through her lawyer, Mr Byron Sengweni of Sengweni Legal Practice, Maphosa pleaded for lenience, saying she was suffering from a heart ailment which required her to seek medical attention outside the country. She said due to her underlying medical condition she was at high risk of contracting Covid-19 if sent to jail.