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Sunday 17 December 2017

No prosecutions in record €50m cigarette seizure

Shipment organised by former IRA smugglers was the biggest haul of its kind in the EU


No one has been prosecuted over the Customs, Naval Service and Garda's seizure of the shipload of 120 million smuggled cigarettes at Greenore, Co Louth, in October 2009, the biggest seizure of its kind in the EU.

Nine men, including the captain of the Anne Scan which sailed here from the Philippines carrying €50m worth of cigarettes, were arrested. At the time the operation was described by then Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy as "a significant strike against organised crime".

The shipment was organised by former IRA smugglers based in the Border area but none were present when the ship docked and was unloaded in Greenore. The two crew members and seven Irish men who were unloading the ship claimed they were unaware of the contents of the crates they were handling.

Given their minor roles and their pleas of ignorance, it was decided not to bring prosecutions, according to sources.

Some 150 members of the Customs Service, the Garda, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Naval Service and Air Corps along with the PSNI and HM Revenue & Customs took part the operation. The European Anti-Fraud Office was also involved. The ship was tracked through the Irish Sea by the Naval Service ship LE Niamh and the Customs tender RCC Faire.

The former IRA figures responsible for the shipment are regarded as among the most successful tobacco smugglers in Europe. They have been found to be laundering profits estimated by Irish and UK customs and police at between €60m and €70m annually, across Europe and the Middle East. They have money laundering links with the Italian mafia.

The smugglers also have close connections with the dissident republican terror group the 'Real' IRA and the money flowing to this group was the reason the British government last month did a U-turn on its plans to introduce the plain packaging on cigarettes which Health Minister James Reilly is introducing from the start of next year.

The plan for the introduction of plain packaging was to have been included in the Queen's Speech for forthcoming legislation last month but was withdrawn because of concerns it would increase profits for the smugglers with dissident republican links. UK customs estimates losses of tax revenue at €2bn annually.

The introduction of plain brown covers with pictures of body parts diseased by tobacco inhalation will make it easier for the smugglers to reproduce generic packaging.

While Customs and the Gardai agree with the idea and benefits of making tobacco as unattractive as possible, they also believe there needs to be a marked increase in the penalties for smuggling. The Republic has among the highest tobacco costs in the EU but imposes the lightest penalties for smuggling, which is the main reason the illicit trade has boomed here.

Cigarette industry sources say the losses in tax revenue here could be as much as €600m annually.

Irish Independent

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