Former Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Terrence Mukupe, along with three accomplices, received a three-year prison sentence and a fine of US$12,780 each for evading customs duties on over 138,000 liters of diesel.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) uncovered the scheme at Chirundu Border Post in 2017 when they intercepted trucks owned by Mukupe, finding water instead of diesel inside.
Mukupe, along with drivers Sam Kapisoriso, Joseph Taderera, and Leonard Mudzuto, was convicted of unlawfully importing diesel without paying duty. The drivers transported the tankers into Zimbabwe with diesel intended for the Democratic Republic of Congo, but replaced the fuel with water once inside the country.
Initially, Justice Benjamin Chikowero sentenced the four to three and a half years in prison but suspended six months on the condition of good behaviour. Additionally, they were ordered to pay a fine of US$12,780 each, with a two-year imprisonment penalty for failure to pay.
Justice Chikowero deviated from the presumptive two-year sentence, imposing a substantial penalty on the defendants due to the detrimental impact their crime had on the country’s economy and the need to deter organized crime across borders.
The trial, which began seven years ago, raised concerns about the delay in proceedings. The court expressed surprise at the prolonged wait, considering that evidence was promptly gathered and the case was straightforward.
In his sentencing judgment, Justice Chikowero acknowledged the mental anguish and anxiety endured by the defendants during the lengthy trial. The court assumed that had Mukupe and his accomplices been tried and convicted in 2017, the sentence would have been significantly different from the one imposed now.
However, the court emphasized that the offence was premeditated, well-planned, and executed meticulously, with Mukupe playing a manifest role in procuring and importing the diesel while making efforts to avoid detection. As the diesel was not recovered, Mukupe was deemed the ultimate beneficiary.
The court highlighted that the offence was committed by an organized criminal syndicate, which influenced the decision to impose a sentence beyond the presumptive two-year term. Justice Chikowero emphasized that Zimbabwe had a duty to its neighbouring countries to combat the proliferation of money laundering associated with extra-territorial economic criminal activities.
The court also underscored the impact of such offences on ZIMRA, the state, and citizens, as it hampers revenue collection and the state’s ability to deliver services. It distorts trade data, affects planning at the national level, creates unfair competition, and encourages non-compliance with the rule of law.
The state successfully proved that on January 27, 2017, at Forbes Border Post in Mutare, the four defendants misrepresented the purpose of the diesel, claiming it would be offloaded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, they emptied the tankers in Zimbabwe and filled them with water instead.
The smuggling operation resulted in a loss of US$55,591.60 in customs duty for ZIMRA. Mukupe and his accomplices were arrested in February 2017 and faced charges of fraud or alternatively contravening the Customs and Excise Act through false declaration.
On January 26, 2017, Kapisoriso, Mutsvene, and Taderera entered Zimbabwe through Forbes Border Post, driving tankers loaded with diesel from Beira, Mozambique, destined for the DRC. While in Zimbabwe, the drivers colluded with Mukupe to replace the diesel with water.
During a physical examination of samples taken from the tankers at Chirundu Border Post on January 31, it was discovered that the tankers contained water instead of diesel.
This case serves as a reminder of the importance of combating smuggling and financial crimes that undermine the country’s economy and disrupt fair trade practices. The court’s decision aims to deter similar offences and uphold the rule of law.