Europe-wide operation results in dismantling of tobacco smuggling operation that cost tax authorities €70 million
An international operation coordinated by Eurojust, Europol and the European anti-fraud office OLAF has resulted in the breakup of a cross-border organised crime gang behind a major illicit tobacco smuggling operation.
A day of action involving law enforcement officials from seven countries resulted in the arrest of 18 people suspected of having links to the conspiracy.
The suspects were arrested on suspicion illegally storing and trading some 670 tonnes of illicit tobacco and several money laundering offences.
Alleged members of the gang, who are said to have deprived customs authorities in the Netherlands of some €70 million ($77.7 million) throughout the course of their plot, were detained in a coordinated series of 29 raids in Italy, Poland, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands, mainly in the south eastern province of Limburg.
Police officers from Romania and Cyprus are also said to have contributed to the operation.
In total, the effort involved more than 250 investigators, including police, fiscal detectives and customs officers who were deployed during the action day.
In a statement, Europol said the gang is thought to have purchased tobacco in Italy before processing it at illicit cigarette factories and selling it on to traders.
“The criminals played a role as well in the brokerage of illegally produced cigarettes and bought, sold and repaired machinery for cigarette production,” Europol said.
“As a result of international cooperation, since last year already illegal cigarette factories have been dismantled in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, whose operators had close links to the criminals who have now been arrested.”
The operation was the result of analysis conducted by a special operational taskforce that was set up in February 2018 comprising of Europol, UK tax authorities and FIOD, the Dutch fiscal information and investigation service.
In a report published back in June of this year, KPMG said the illicit trade in black market cigarettes across the European Union deprived member states of some €10 billion of tax revenues in 2018.
This was up from €369 million in 2017, despite the total number of counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes consumed in EU nations falling 1.1 billion to 43.6 billion.
According to the study, which was commissioned by Philip Morris International, the EU market for illicit smoking products was equal to legal cigarette sales in the UK, Austria and Denmark combined in 2018.
Scottish researchers to investigate whether minimum alcohol pricing pushes homeless to illicit drink and drugs
Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University are to study how minimum alcohol pricing policies impact homeless people.
The project will be led by experts at the institution’s Substance Use and Misuse research group after Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum alcohol pricing last year.
In May 2018, the Scottish government introduced a 50p a unit minimum price, which experts cautioned could result in vulnerable groups turning to dangerous forms of counterfeit alcohol and new psychoactive substances such as synthetic cannabinoid Spice.
This resulted in the price of a three-litre bottle of cider containing 7.5% alcohol, a beverage popular with problem drinkers and homeless people, rising in price from £3.50 ($4.32) to £11.25.
While the Scottish government believes global evidence suggests the new pricing structure will have a positive effect on problem drinking among the general population, academics have thus far not carried out research into the potential impact minimum pricing might have on vulnerable sections of society, such as the homeless.
In a statement issued this morning, the university said its researchers will be working with colleagues from the University of Victoria in Canada, the University of Stirling, Heriot-Watt University and experts from the UK’s National Health Service and charity the Homeless Network.
Professor Carol Emslie, who will head up the investigation, commented: “Scotland is the first country in the world to implement alcohol minimum unit pricing.
“We need to explore the potential benefits of this policy for homeless people but we also need to understand any potential negative consequences.
“We do not know how vulnerable groups such as people experiencing homeless have adapted to the higher price of alcohol such as vodka and strong white cider.
“Our study will inform decisions about minimum unit pricing in Scotland and provide guidance for other countries planning to introduce the policy.”
Prior to the introduction of Scotland’s new pricing law, Director of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs Christopher Snowdon told the Daily Telegraph that the new policy could see heavy drinkers replace low-price alcohol with more dangerous substances.
In May of this year, 12 months on from the new pricing regime coming into force, it was revealed that Scotland had the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe.
Organised crime police in Australia seize 1.5 tonnes of smuggled tobacco worth A$1.5 million
Police in Australia discovered a 1.5-tonne consignment of illicit tobacco estimated to be worth A$1.5 million ($1.01 million) in Sydney’s south west earlier this week, according to a statement from New South Wales Police.
Officers from the force’s Strike Force Raptor, which is dedicated to targeting organised criminal activity connected with the country’s motorcycle gangs, found the huge haul after conducting a raid on an industrial unit in the Fairfield district of the city on Tuesday.
Detectives searching the premises after executing a warrant came across 73 boxes that were found to contain loose tobacco weighing almost 1.5 tonnes.
Police said the tobacco was impounded and taken away for further analysis, adding that no arrests had been made in connection with the shipment.
In May of last year, authorities in Australia launched a crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco that the country’s government said it hoped would raise some A$3.6 billion over a four-year period.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said at the time that the initiative would see the government take action to prevent the sale of the 864 tonnes of illicit tobacco that was estimated to make it past the country’s customs agencies every year.
Kelly O’Dwyer, who was the nation’s Minister for Revenue and Financial Services at the time, said: “These measures will shut down the avenues that organised crime syndicates have to access illicit tobacco to fund criminal activity.”
Just months later, officers from Australian Border Force announced that they had arrested a man in connection with the discovery of a record haul of 9.5 million smuggled cigarettes, which were found concealed inside a container in a port city of Fremantle in Western Australia.
The illicit cigarettes, which were thought to have been made in Southeast Asia, would have cost the Australian treasury A$7.66 million in evaded duty had they made it onto the country’s black market.
Earlier this month, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) released a report that revealed law enforcement agencies across the country confiscated 30.6 tonnes of illicit drugs last year, noting that methamphetamine remained one of the most consumed and seized illicit drugs in the nation.
Michael Phelan, ACIC CEO, commented: “The estimated street value of the weight of amphetamines, MDMA, cocaine and heroin seized nationally in 2017–18 is nearly $5 billion, underlining the size of the black economy that relates to illicit drugs alone.”
The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, which was released in June by the ACIC, found that Australians are now using twice as much methamphetamine as any other illegal drug.
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9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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