Revenue opens phone line seeking information on tobacco smuggling

 

TOBACCO SMUGGLING has reached record levels, with more than 127 million illegal cigarettes seized so far this year, according to the Revenue Commissioners.

This compares to 200 million cigarettes seized last year, but 120 million of these were accounted for by a single operation at Greenore, Co Louth.

The proportion of counterfeit cigarettes among those seized is also on the rise, from about 50 per cent last year to almost 80 per cent so far this year.

Revenue yesterday announced the results of a two-week crackdown on cigarette smuggling carried out this month. A confidential freephone number, 1800 295295, has also been introduced for members of the public to provide information about smuggling or the sale of illegal cigarettes.

Revenue Commissioner Liam Irwin warned people who bought cigarettes on the black market that they were putting money into the hands of criminals.

“Anyone tempted to buy cheap cigarettes from an irregular source of supply must realise that there is a high possibility that they are buying counterfeit goods, which provide an unknown additional set of health risks, as the product is not the subject of quality control,” he added.

“These actions are not just robbing the exchequer of much needed funds, they are also hurting local businesses.”

Airports, freight terminals, markets, postal services and white van operators were all targeted during the blitz, which resulted in the seizure of cigarettes and tobacco worth almost €6 million.

The action resulted in four arrests, and 73 prosecutions are pending, Revenue said in a briefing yesterday.

Some 1.3 million of the cigarettes were seized from passengers alighting from aircraft; most of these were smuggled from the Canary Islands, Poland and China, according to Tom Talbot, head of the Customs criminal investigation branch. More than half the 343,000 cigarettes seized in the post were imported from China.

The largest seizure in the blitz was made near Ratoath, Co Meath, where over 10 million cigarettes were found in a trailer that came through Dublin Port, having arrived from Malaysia. The brand involved, Bolton, had never been seen before in Ireland.

Mr Irwin said there was no evidence that drug gangs or subversives had targeted tobacco smuggling, but individual criminals had switched to the trade because it was high-value and the consequences were less serious than for drug smuggling. Penalties for cigarette smuggling increased last year and Mr Irwin said he was satisfied the courts were taking the crime more seriously than before.