Thursday 8 December 2016

Husband and wife ex-IRA team are key players in €250m illegal cigarettes scam

Ken Foy and Luke Byrne

Published 28/09/2016 | 09:36

An undercover investigator buys cigarettes on Parnell Street. The deal was witnessed by an Independent.ie reporter
An undercover investigator buys cigarettes on Parnell Street. The deal was witnessed by an Independent.ie reporter
An undercover investigator buys cigarettes on Parnell Street. The deal was witnessed by an Independent.ie reporter

Gardaí and customs officers have identified at least four separate crime groups who are making millions of euro each year by importing illegal cigarettes with profit margins of 900pc.

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It's estimated one in every four packets of cigarettes sold here has been smuggled into the country illegally - costing the exchequer around €250m a year.

As part of an investigation into this illegal activity, officers have been monitoring the activities of a veteran crime kingpin in Dublin's north inner city.

This smuggler is described as a "career criminal" who has been a target of the authorities for years but has hardly any previous criminal convictions.

However, sources say that his operations are nothing on the scale of an Irish husband and wife team who were arrested in the Canary Islands in January 2014 following an investigation into the laundering of millions of euro netted from alleged trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes.

The couple have since been released but after their arrest it emerged that the man reached a €500,000 settlement with the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Seized cigarettes
Seized cigarettes

ILLEGAL

The two were part of a Provisional IRA unit that had been active on mainland Europe in the late-1980s and early-1990s and were subsequently convicted of terrorist offences. They live in Dundalk, Co Louth.

Another target is a Dundalk-based businessman who has been active in the illegal cigarette trade for years and also has IRA links.

Sources said his network was linked to last year's biggest illegal cigarette seizure, which happened in Slane, Co Meath, on October 19, 2015.

Almost 10 million cigarettes with a retail value of over €5.25m were uncovered in an intelligence-led operation by Revenue officers, supported by gardai. The container, which travelled from Vietnam via Singapore and Rotterdam, arrived into Dublin Port the week before, a route that sources say is becoming more prevalent

The "American Legend" brand cigarettes were described on the manifest as "timber furniture".

Known as "illicit whites" these fake cigarettes cost around 20 cent a packet to produce and are sold here for around €4.

Another dangerous grouping involved in the illegal cigarette trade is a dissident Republican grouping based in Co Monaghan and Co Tyrone which has been trying to organise a new IRA faction.

Almost €106m worth of cigarettes and loose rolling tobacco has been confiscated by authorities since 2013. This marks a year-on-year increase for the last three years.

In 2013, there were €18.9m worth of cigarettes and €1.7m worth of loose tobacco seized by the authorities.

By last year, the figure for cigarettes had soared to €34.41m, while €1.09m worth of loose tobacco was also seized in the period.

For the first eight months of this year, the total figure has already reached €20.9m.

SMUGGLING

The penalties for smuggling illegal cigarettes are much less severe than those for smuggling illegal drugs, making it an attractive option for criminal gangs or paramilitaries.

For example, anyone found with illegal drugs for sale with a street value more than €13,500, is subject to a mandatory 10-year jail term.

By contrast, being caught with a million contraband cigarettes carries a fine of €126,000.

A report by KPMG, published in June this year, found that Ireland has the sixth-largest black-market cigarette trade in Europe.

Herald

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