Suspected fraudsters are duping tobacco farmers in some tobacco growing districts in the Central Region by collecting a booking fee for tobacco sales at Lilongwe Auction Floors.
According to random interviews we conducted with farmers in Dowa, Ntchisi, Mchinji, Lilongwe and Kasungu districts, the fraudsters are collecting a minimum of K3 000 per farmer although booking is free of charge.
AHL Group (formerly Auction Holdings Limited) corporate affairs manager Mark Ndipita confirmed to The Nation that many farmers have been duped.
He said: “Farmers are supposed to register and book for their tobacco to be sold. This process is free of charge. But this year we have noted that there are indeed fraudsters who are going to tobacco growing districts such as Dowa, Ntchisi, Lilongwe, Kasungu and Mchinji, telling farmers that they are officials from auction floors and they are collecting a booking fee.
“We received several complaints from farmers that they paid a booking fee. We received these complaints with shock.”
One of the farmers, 41-year-old Bell Lunda of Ndalama Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mponela in Dowa said the fraudsters tell farmers that if they pay the fee, their tobacco will not be subjected to any deductions such as taxes when it is bought at the auction floors.
“They come claiming they are employees of AHL Group. When we pay the fee, we get surprised that they didn’t register or book for us for the selling process to start. I paid K3 000 as booking fee. Later, I discovered that I was duped,” he said.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Albert Changaya condemned the practice, saying it negatively affects farmers’ incomes.
“TCC is aware that there are fraudsters that are duping farmers. This is a bad practice as it paints a bad picture of the tobacco industry. TCC is investigating this and it will catch the culprits. We urge all tobacco farmers to report any suspicious transaction to TCC or authorities at auction floors,” he said. n