OLAF'S CONTINUING ASSISTANCE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CIGARETTE SMUGGLING

Press Release OLAF/05/2003, 13 february 2003

On 15 January 2003 German customs and judicial authorities carried out searches on the premises of a German cigarette manufacturer in the regions of Stade and Hamburg (see OLAF Press release 03/01All available translations.)
This company is suspected of involvement in cigarette smuggling and breaches of the U.N. embargo on Iraq. OLAF stands ready to provide any appropriate assistance to the German authorities.

Many actions have been undertaken by the Office to support and reinforce the fight against cigarette smuggling carried out by the Member States' authorities and the authorities of the Applicant countries. There is also particularly close cooperation with the United States Customs Service. During the last 18 months OLAF's work with the relevant authorities in a number of Member States has assisted them to make significant seizures of smuggled cigarettes. The following

In October 2002, acting on information obtained by the Spanish Guardia Civil and transmitted through OLAF, the Italian Guardia di Finanza seized two containers containing 8 592 000 cigarettes in a Calabrian port. The information allowed investigators to follow the route of these two containers in real time up to the moment that they were seized. The cigarettes in question were destined for the British market. The investigation clearly demonstrated the highly organised nature of the smuggling rings that operate throughout the European Union as well as in other countries.

In March 2002 the Belgian Police in Namur concluded a criminal investigation in relation to cigarette smuggling from Belgium to the United Kingdom. This investigation revealed that at least 80 lorries loaded with cigarettes illegally entered the United Kingdom. As a result 7 people were arrested. Among them was a well known Sicilian criminal, the subject of an international arrest warrant issued in Italy (Palermo) on the basis of the results of investigations carried out by the local Anti-mafia Prosecution Office for cigarette smuggling and other crimes. (In 2001 OLAF had informed the Belgian Police about the alleged illegal activities of most of these people, in particular the one who was the subject of the arrest warrant.)

OLAF was informed by Belgian Customs about a lorry unloading glassware in a suspect warehouse in Belgium. It could be established that the lorry possibly came from Lithuania. Even though the information about the licence plate number was not totally correct, the information was passed on to the Lithuanian Customs. A few days later the Lithuanian authorities found the lorry in their country loaded with metal wall constructions destined for the EU. More than two million Sovereign cigarettes were hidden in the declared goods. The warehouse in Belgium was searched, and more than two million cigarettes were detected.

In another case, the Lithuanian Customs Criminal service found in a conventional ship's load of scrap a large quantity of cigarettes. The consignee was a company in France. This information was passed to OLAF on the day of the seizure. The French authorities were informed about the details of the seizure and the consignee, and the French Customs were subsequently able to seize a lorry load of cigarettes hidden in rolls of wire (approximately 3.000.000 cigarettes) destined for the same company as in the case of the scrap. The cigarettes were destined for the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Customs were informed and were also able to make a seizure of several million cigarettes.

Mr Alessandro Butticé
Spokesman of the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF)
Tel : +32 (0)2 296.5425
Fax : +32 (0)2 299.8101

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