Yusuf Abramjee

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Yusuf Abramjee is a South-African journalist, who works on tobacco, crime and tax stories, among other issues. He has been a freelance reporter since 1994 but in 2018 he became Vice-President of Crime Stoppers International, with focus on illicit trade and counterfeit goods, particularly tobacco smuggling. He chairs Crime Stoppers International’s media committee (see below).12

  • Take Back the Tax spokesperson (2018-on going)
  • Vice-President for Crime Stoppers International (2018-on going)
  • Head of Global Communications for Crime Stoppers International (2015-2018)
  • Interpol ‘Turn Back Crime’ Ambassador (2014 –current)3

Links to the Tobacco Industry

Yusuf Abramjee is the spokesperson for #takebackthetax, an initiative funded by the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA).4 Although TISA maintains it is an organization “representing the common interests of the entire South African tobacco industry, both locally and globally”,5 its members are predominantly the big tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands (previously Imperial Tobacco). #TakeBackTheTax is an initiative to combat the illicit trade of cigarettes in South Africa. Abramjee became the spokesperson for this initiative in 2018.

A website has been created for the Take Back the Tax initiative that contains an online petition that reads:
“I, ________Implore the South African Revenue Service, the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and law enforcement agencies to act with urgency and take decisive steps in combating the trade of illegal cigarettes. By doing so we will stop the South African economy from losing R8 billion in potential tax revenue every year. I ask that the aforementioned parties conduct thorough investigations into claims of tax evasion by all cigarette manufacturers, to implement and enforce new laws to mitigate the negative impact that illegal cigarettes have on low-income communities.”6

This website, as well as the Twitter account @TakeBackTheTax, describe it as a TISA initiative (see above).The petition raised over 23,000 signatures from end of July 2018 to May 2019, with no expected deadline.7 The initiative’s narrative on Twitter and other social media channels, as well as in the petition, reflect a number of tobacco industry tactics and arguments around illicit trade of cigarettes. It argues that the loss of revenue due to unpaid taxes on illegal tobacco could put 10,000 jobs in farming at risk.8

Gold Leaf Tobacco Legal vs Yusuf Abramjee

In February 2019, the tobacco company Gold Leaf Tobacco (GLT) sued Yusuf Abramjee for defamation regarding claims he had made about the company and tax evasion. Yusuf Abramjee made numerous statements about GLT avoiding taxes and being involved with the illicit trade of cigarettes in South Africa.9 On his website, Abramjee claims that “GLTC has a lot to answer for when it comes to the illegal cigarette trade (…)My comments about Gold Leaf and RG have all been true and very much in the public interest”. 10 GTL has always denied the tax evasion and illicit trade statements made by Abramjee. The case was struck off by a judge in March 2019 for “not being urgent”.11

GTL is a member of the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA), an organization composed of the smaller tobacco companies, which has been at loggerheads against TISA for years.12 FITA released a press statement after the court ruled in favour of Abramjee stating that the organisation had “warned the public at large to view campaigns such as the #TakeBackTheTax campaign with the necessary caution as they are being funded by big tobacco manufacturers in their pursuit to try and influence government policy in respect of tobacco legislation.”13

Links to International Organizations


“Turn back crime” is a global awareness campaign launched by INTERPOL in 2014. The initial topic for the campaign was illicit trade and counterfeiting of commercial goods.14 The initiative’s main hashtags are #turnbackcrime and #TogetherWeCan. The main website for Turn Back Crime is not available anymore, but can be accessed through the web archive. 15  South African news articles from 2014, report that Yusuf Ambramjee was designated one of Interpol’s ‘Turn Back Crime’ Ambassadors, along with other celebrities as actor Jackie Chan and football player Lionel Messi, to support global crime fighting initiatives around the world.16

Crime Stoppers International

Crime Stoppers International (CSI) says it is a “global non-profit organization representing seven regions committed to support law enforcement efforts to prevent and solve crime by mobilizing citizens to anonymously report illegal activity”.17 On its website, under the section on illicit trade, it describes a collaboration between Crime Stoppers and the tobacco industry as a “success story”. This initiative, called ‘Denuncie Hoy’ (Report Today), focused on illicit cigarette trade in El Salvador, Central America, and was expected to expand to Guatemala.18 Yusuf Abramjee has been collaborating with CSI since 2007, when he was working and later heading the initiative called Crime Line. This consists of an online platform for anonymous tips on crime in South Africa.19 Abramjee became Head of Global Communications for CSl in 2015 and later, in 2018, was promoted to Vice-President.

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. Crime Stoppers International, Crime Stoppers International Announces New Board Appointees, website, 1 November 2018, accessed April 2019
  2. Y. Abramjee, Yusuf Abramjee, website, 2011, accessed April 2019
  3. Interpol Ambassadors, Interpol appoints SA ambassadors for Global Campaign, Comaro Chronicle, 23 October 2014, accessed April 2019
  4. Take Back the Tax,#TakeBackTheTax, 2018, accessed April 2019
  5. Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, TISA Our History, website, 2016, accessed April 2019
  6. Tax,#TakeBackTheTax, 2018,accessed April 2019
  7. Take Back the Tax archive, Archive of Take Back the Tax website July 20 2018, 20 July 2018, accessed April 2019
  8. TakeBackTheTax TheTaxTakeBackTheTax, 2018, accessed April 2019
  9. Gold Leaf, Press, 10 March 2019, accessed April 2019
  10. Yusuf Abramjee, Illegal cigarettes manufacturer Gold Leaf Tobacco fails in its attempt to silence anti crime activist Yusuf Abramjee,8 March 2019, accessed April 2019
  11. Tobacco firm loses battle to gag #TakeBackTheTax spokesperson Yusuf Abramjee, IOL, 8 March 2019, accessed April 2019
  12. Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, FITA Members,2012,accessed April 2019
  13. M.Vogel FITA, Press release – FITA – for immediate release, 11 March 2019, accessed April 2019
  14. About the campaign, making our communities safer, 2016, accessed April 2019
  15. Turn Back Crime Initiative, 2016, accessed April 2019
  16. Hadebe, Zesuliwe, Interpol appoints SA ambassadors for Global Campaign, Alberton Record, October 2014, accessed May 2019
  17. Crime Stoppers International, The global authority on anonymous reporting, website, 2018, accessed April 2019
  18. Central America illicit trade cases, Success stories, 2016, accessed April 2019
  19. Crime Line, Crime Line, website, accessed April 2019