Gangs smuggle illegal tobacco to boost profits
ORGANISED crime gangs are turning to illegally manufactured cigarettes -- known as 'cheap whites' -- to boost their profits in the smuggling trade.
Cheap whites are cigarette brands that have been manufactured specially for the black market and, along with counterfeits, produce bigger profit margins for the gangsters.
But they are posing added health risks for consumers as they are not subject to manufacturing regulations.
This is one of the findings of a wide-ranging cross-border organised crime assessment, which has been compiled for a top-level security conference to be held in Belfast today. Among those attending the conference are Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, his Northern counterpart, David Ford, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and senior PSNI management.
Representatives from various specialist units within the garda force and the PSNI will attend, as well as the customs services on both sides of the Border.
At last year's organised crime talks in Dundalk, it was agreed to adopt a joint north-south approach to combating tobacco smuggling more effectively.
A special tobacco fraud enforcement group was set up involving the police and customs and members of the Criminal Assets Bureau and the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency.
The aim of the group is to identify key criminal gangs involved in the racket and work as a partnership to disrupt the illegal trade. Shortly afterwards, law enforcement agencies on both sides worked together with the customs to make the biggest single seizure of smuggled cigarettes in Europe.
They confiscated a haul of 120 million cigarettes at Greenore port in Co Louth, which represented a potential revenue loss of €40m.
Overall last year, the Revenue seized 218 million cigarettes and 10,450kg of tobacco, with a combined worth of €95m. In the first half of this year, officers confiscated 113 million cigarettes and 1,860kg of tobacco, with a combined value of €48.8m.
And during July officers carried out a two-week blitz, culminating in the seizure of almost 14 million cigarettes and 195kg of tobacco. Revenue officers targeted more than 1,700 flights, raided more than 1,000 shops and 43 street markets and scanned 180 containers in the massive operation.
Ten vehicles, 207 litres of vodka and €218,000 in cash were also confiscated by the revenue teams.
Mr Ahern will tell the conference that nobody should think some of the excise crimes are not serious, or that they are crimes with no victims.
The callous disregard for human life displayed by those involved in the drugs trade and the appalling spectacle in the 21st century of human traffickers condemning people to lives of slavery is evident to all.
All of the crimes involved organised crime gangs and they have to be tackled at every level, he will stress.