By Spy Uganda Correspondent
South Africa: South Africa has expelled several diplomats from Malawi after they were found guilty of importing duty-free alcohol in the country and secretly selling it out to bars and restaurants.
Malawi’s foreign affairs ministry in Lilongwe said on Friday that South Africa had given the diplomats and their families 72 hours to leave the country.
South Africa’s ministry of international relations said in a statement that the decision was taken because the diplomats “were found guilty of engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol” following an intensive investigation into their flouting of diplomatic privileges.
Pretoria said investigations into similar transgressions by other missions accredited to South Africa were “at an advanced stage and similar action will be taken should they be found guilty”.
A Malawi government spokesperson, Gospel Kazako, told local media on Saturday that the government had already talked with some of its South Africa-based diplomats.
“What they are saying is that they are being accused of abusing the tax privileges that they had, you know according to the Vienna Convention of 1961, diplomats have certain privileges and one of the privileges is that of not paying tax in the hosting country on certain items and certain services. Alcohol is one of those items, so there was abuse, according to the South African government.” Kazako said.
The South African Revenue Service said the scandal which also involved diplomats from other countries including Rwanda, Burundi, and Lesotho, had led to the estimated loss of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes every month. It has not yet been determined how long the illegal enterprise was operating.
However, Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Friday evening that the Malawi government had conveyed regret to the South African government about the conduct of the diplomats involved, and that it would take appropriate action when the diplomats returned to Malawi.
Several diplomats of Lesotho were also expelled from South Africa on Thursday on similar grounds.
South African media have reported that cash-strapped Lesotho diplomats have been bringing alcohol into the country without paying duty and then reselling it in bars and restaurants.