Monday 19 March 2018

Illegal cigarette smugglers take to the high seas

Ken Foy Crime correspondent

THIS map shows the major tobacco smuggling routes into Ireland and reveals that cigarettes made in Asia and Africa generally come into the country by sea.

However, from mainland Europe the illicit products mostly arrive here on planes and trucks.

It is a trade that costs Irish retailers €450m a year.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of illegal tobacco trade in Europe, and 25pc of cigarettes smoked here are not taxed, according to figures released by major tobacco manufacturing company JTI.

From the Baltic countries, Russia and Spain, illegal tobacco is arriving by plane.

It comes in cargo ships from the Suez Canal and the Canary Islands, while smugglers from mainland Europe favour the main motorways before travelling by ship to the UK and again by sea to Ireland.

Sources say a small number of Irish criminals have made millions of euro from the smuggling of illegal cigarettes into the country.

One of the most prominent Irish gangsters involved in this activity is a veteran Ballyfermot criminal who controls illegal smuggling of cigarettes into Ireland in an operation that is believed to be worth over €10m.

He is now mostly based on Spain's Costa del Sol, and his son plays an increasingly prominent role in the business.

The gangster – a long-term target of the Criminal Assets Bureau – has made millions from smuggling illegal cigarettes over the past two decades.

He cannot be named here for legal reasons.

“We are committed to fighting this highly damaging and unregulated trade. This is costing retailers and the taxpayer hundreds of millions, and continues to fuel crime in communities across Ireland,” said John Freda, general manager of JTI Ireland.

“The illegal tobacco trade has huge societal impacts. Criminals and gangs use children to sell products and channel the profits into other illegal activities.

“Cigarettes are at least 50pc cheaper on the streets than the ones sold by legitimate retailers, which encourages minors to buy illegal tobacco in unregulated markets and back alleys.”

The JTI report claimed non-duty-paid tobacco is costing the exchequer more than €250m and the retail trade €450m a year.


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