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Johannesburg – South Africa has expelled diplomats from Lesotho and Malawi for being involved in the sale of duty free alcohol to bars and restaurants.
The government of Lesotho has expressed shock and disappointment in learning of the diplomats who have been thrown out of South Africa and declared unwanted in the country.
South Africa declared several diplomats persona non grata for engaging in the illegal sale of illicit duty-free alcohol.
The diplomats from Malawi and neighbouring Lesotho were given 72 hours to leave the country, failing which will lead to arrests.
There are reports that short of cash Lesotho diplomats and their spouses have been bringing alcohol into the country without paying duty and then reselling it in bars and restaurants.
Lesotho foreign affairs minister Matsepo Ramakoae said they saw media reports that some diplomats were involved in this. .
“This means that this has been going on for quite some time. We are going to take the report from South Africa, look at it and take action,” said Ramakoae.
The Malawian government has also issued a statement promising to take appropriate action against the diplomats.
“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation wishes to confirm that it has, on behalf of South Africa, declared several diplomats persona non-grata following an intensive investigation into their flouting of diplomatic privileges. The said diplomats were found guilty of engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol,” said Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela
Monyela said the decision was taken in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961 which is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats can conduct their duties without the threat of influence by the host government.
However, in instances where such privileges are abused, the host country is obliged to take the necessary action in line with the Convention.
“The government of South Africa has given the affected diplomatic staff members and their families 72 hours within which they should leave South Africa. They are also expected to relinquish their diplomatic status by returning all the necessary diplomatic tools to Dirco.
“Investigations of similar transgressions by other missions accredited to South Africa are at an advanced stage and similar action will be taken should they be found guilty. The South African government calls upon all diplomatic missions accredited to the country to respect, uphold and comply with all the laws of the land, including adherence with the prescripts of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961,” said Monyela.
He added that there is going to be more diplomats from other countries to be dealt with.
In January, there were media reports that Lesotho diplomats in South Africa had sold duty-free alcohol to make up for the shortages in their salaries.
In April, media reports surfaced that the SA Revenue Service (SARS) had uncovered a scam that foreign diplomats were buying large volumes of alcohol at duty-free retailers and selling it locally.