Customs officers seized over 715 million smuggled cigarettes in Ireland over the past five years. Seizures in Dublin accouted for 437 million of these followed by the Border-Midlands-West where Customs discovered over 184 million illicit cigarettes. The remainder of the country (East, except Dublin, South-East and South-West) was the source of 94 million smuggled cigarettes between 2006 and the end of 2011.
Customs also seized over 29½ tonnes of tobacco with a corresponding loss to the Exchequer of €10.28 million.
To put this combined loss in a context – the prospective yield this year from the newly introduced Household Charge is €180 million. The loss of revenue to the Irish Exchequer from tobacco and cigarette smuggling in two years, 2008 and 2009, is comparable to the prospective yield in 2012 from the newly introduced Household Charge (€180 million).
The detections and seizures of smuggled cigarettes and tobacco is achieved through a combination of risk analysis, profiling, intelligence as well as the screening of cargo, vehicles and postal packages. Intelligence checks and random checks are made of retail outlets, farmers markets and private and commercial premises. Seversal blitz operations were conducted which uncovered over 34 million cigarettes and over 1,700 kgs of tobacco.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is very active in tackling this menace at an international level and is an important source of intelligence gathering in combating illegal tobacco smuggling globally.
Spanish Customs launched Operation "BALMAN" in February 2010 when specific intelligence about suspicious imports of cigarettes from China was received by OLAF and the Customs Service of the Czech Republic. Fast and accurate exchanges of information between OLAF and national authorities allowed investigators to track containers of counterfeit cigarettes from China to ports on the east coast of Spain, where they were diverted onto the illegal market. OLAF's involvement contributed to the seizure of six containers with more than 40 million cigarettes in Spain and Portugal, preventing financial losses to the EU budget and Member States of more than € 6 million.
In June 2010 the joint customs operation "SIROCCO" focused on deep sea containers loaded in China or the United Arab Emirates and arriving in the Mediterranean area. The objective was to identify consignments suspected of containing counterfeit or smuggled genuine cigarettes, as well as other counterfeit and illegal goods. It is estimated that the seizure of cigarettes alone prevented a potential loss of approximately € 8 million in customs duties and taxes in the EU.
Around 40 million cigarettes, 1.2 tonnes of hand-rolled tobacco, as well as 7,000 litres of alcohol and 8 million other counterfeit items including clothing, shoes, toys and electronics, were seized during the joint customs operations. Three suspected cigarette traffickers were arrested. OLAF provided logistical and technical support throughout the operation. It coordinated the operation from a Permanent Operational Coordination Unit based in OLAF’s premises in Brussels. The unit was staffed by customs liaison officers from nine EU Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Romania), Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, as well as a liaison officer from Europol.
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