Smuggled cigarettes worth €3m seized by Customs
CUSTOMS officials scored their first success of 2010 with the seizure early yesterday of eight million cigarettes worth an estimated €3.1m.
The cigarettes -- which represented a potential loss of €2.7m to the Exchequer -- were found yesterday in a ship's consignment marked 'heaters'.
The Palace brand cigarettes arrived on a ship into Dublin port from Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates via Antwerp on Wednesday.
A truck and a container were also seized by customs officers and a number of people were questioned. No arrests have been made but a spokesman for the Revenue Commissioners said investigations are ongoing "both nationally and internationally".
Last night Retailers Against Smuggling praised the work of customs officials -- but said the Government needs to do more to tackle the black market.
"At present, the illegal black market here in Ireland is crippling the legitimate Irish retailer," said spokesman Benny Gilsenan.
"Ireland's retailers lost close to €700m in 2009 from increased smuggling activity yet the Government refuses time and time again to address this very grave issue.
"The Government in the recent Budget had the opportunity to recommend new legalisation that would deter criminals from smuggling but continued to shirk the responsibility by failing to act," he said.
"Thousands upon thousands of jobs are under threat in 2010 unless stiffer penalties and tougher laws are introduced to replace the paltry fines that are in place at present."
The seizure comes on top of a record year for officials in 2009, who succeeded in smashing a number of major smuggling operations.
In 2009, a total of 215 million cigarettes worth €90m were recovered, with one 120 million discovery the biggest in EU history. The seizures saved the Exchequer €72m in potential lost revenue.
The 2009 confiscations marked a substantial rise in the volume of cigarettes recovered last year, compared with 135 million in 2008.
Tobacco smuggling is the biggest fraud, in terms of revenue, against EU countries, according to the European Commission's anti-fraud office.
The number of seizures is predicted to increase even more this year as customs has bought a second mobile scanner, at a cost of €2.3m.
The scanner can examine the inside of containers and uses sophisticated software to produce high-quality images.
Revenue believes one in every five cigarettes in the country is not taxed. But cigarette manufacturers claim untaxed cigarettes account for at least a quarter of all those smoked in Ireland and may cost the State as much as €500m in lost revenue.
The price of cigarettes was left untouched in the Budget as the already high cost -- at €8.40 for a packet of 20 -- is pushing many people to buy them on the black market.
Gardai are taking a "robust prosecution policy" against smugglers -- which led to 125 convictions for cigarette smuggling or dealing in the first 10 months of last year.
Meanwhile, large consignments of contraband cigarettes detected at the point of entry to the country were placed under surveillance and were then allowed to continue to their destination.