70 tonnes of counterfeit tobacco seized in LithuaniaPlans by an international criminal gang to flood the EU market with millions of illegal cigarettes came to an abrupt end last week thanks to a pan-European investigation co-ordinated by the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF. The operation began when Polish Police raided an illegal cigarette factory near to Warsaw, Poland. During the raid, Polish Police arrested 32 people and seized cigarette making machinery and materials, including over 50 tonnes of cut tobacco. A consignment of nearly 5 million cigarettes, which had already been loaded on a lorry for distribution, was also seized. Shortly after the illegal production facility was raided, over 70 tonnes of tobacco destined for the factory was seized in Lithuania as part of the same operation.
Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud Algirdas Šemeta said „International criminal gangs are depriving the member states from the tax income that is due and threatening the interests of citizens and businesses. International criminal network can be faught only by joint forces. This operation is one of the examples of how cooperation at the European level can make our fight against shadow economy a success. I would like to congratulate all the parties of operation with great results. This sets the tone for our activities in the future.“
The Director-General of OLAF, Mr Giovanni Kessler, expressed his congratulations to the Customs authorities in Lithuania for their achievements in this case. "This was an extensive criminal enterprise. The criminals could have produced around 120 million cigarettes with the tobacco which has been seized, representing potential losses to the EU taxpayer of €24 million, and there is no doubt that further deliveries of tobacco were planned. This operation clearly demonstrates the outstanding results that can be achieved through international cooperation". Mr Kessler went on to explain that the factory had been raided shortly after production had started. "This was a very large factory with considerable production capacity. If it had continued to run, financial losses would potentially have been at least €6 million a week".
An estimated 10 billion euro in taxes and duties are lost to the budgets of the EU and Member States each year as a result of cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting.
For photos and video material courtesy of Polish police, please see:http://www.policja.pl/portal/pol/1/63338/CBS_zabezpieczylo_50_ton_tytoniu.html