Ireland 'preferred' by cigarette smugglers


IRELAND REMAINS one of the “preferred destinations” in the EU for cigarette smuggling because of its comparatively high taxes on tobacco, a new report into criminal activity in the union has found.

Europol, the agency that handles criminal intelligence within the union, published its EU Organised Crime Threat Assessment 2011 yesterday.

It covers a wide range of criminal activity, including the drugs trade, illegal immigration, human trafficking, fraud, counterfeiting, property and environmental crime and weapons trafficking.

Europol says the “outstanding” feature of its latest assessment is the increasing diversification of the organised crime threat.

While Ireland does not feature strongly in the report, it identifies five major geographical “criminal hubs” based on their proximity to markets, commercial and transport infrastructure, the prevalence of criminal groups and “opportunities for criminal migration”.

On cigarette smuggling, the report describes its economic impact on the EU as “significant”. It estimates the “substantial loss” to national and EU budgets at about €10 billion per year.

“Organised crime groups based in the EU are increasingly active in cigarette smuggling, seen as an attractive alternative to drug trafficking because of its lower penalties and large profits.”

Criminals attempt to move goods through the free trade zones of Dubai and Jebel Ali (UAE) and Port Said (Egypt), or through regions in which the EU law enforcement community has “weaker co-operation arrangements”.

These include Indonesia, the northern Philippines and areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the government of Cyprus “does not exercise effective control”, the report says.

“Preferred destinations within the EU are countries with comparatively high taxes on tobacco, such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Spain, the UK and Ireland.”

The report also notes that large-scale domestic cultivation of herbal cannabis continues to increase in the EU and says a further expansion is expected.

It says what it describes as “Vietnamese groups” are prominent in the indoor cultivation of cannabis, particularly in Ireland, the UK, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Poland.

“Traditionally hierarchical in structure, these have expanded to incorporate specialist roles for electricians, plumbers and the management of cultivation facilities . . .”

Europol also notes the “substantial” economic and social impact of VAT fraud. Annual losses by member states in some cases up to €3 billion, “imply this is a significant, multibillion euro illegal business”, it says.