During the raids on many illegal cigarette factories in Belgium and the Netherlands, authorities have seized 186 tonnes of cut tobacco and cigarette close to 14 million, a source said on Tuesday. It is believed that the seized cigarettes are heading for the market in the U.K.
Three lorries and other production and packaging equipment were confiscated. Police officers also arrested seven of the workers during the strike. Had the counterfeit cigarettes been successfully smuggled into the U.K., they would have yielded significant returns for the organized crime groups. In contrast, the countries’ tax authorities would have incurred revenue losses running into millions of pounds.
The raid, which took place last week Thursday, became necessary following an investigation into the smuggling of tobacco which was carried out by the Belgian Customs Office and backed by the Central Bureau of Investigation of the Polish Police, the Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service, and Europol.
In early January this year, the authorities who were aiming at a tobacco smuggling group operating in Cordoba and Seville carried out a similar operation in Spain. The police arrested twelve suspects, and over 900,000 cigarettes were seized. Also, 4.2 tons of filter, cut tobacco of 10.3 tons, vehicles, and other production equipment were impounded.
Meanwhile, British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the largest tobacco manufacturers in the world, said there had been a rise in armed robberies of its South African headquarters in a separate venture this week.
On Tuesday, a statement from the company revealed that armed robbers were attacking vehicles distributing products. On average, 2,845 cartons of cigarettes were stolen every month since the lockdown sales restriction was lifted in the country last September.
Further details of the robbery were given by Johnny Moloto, the BAT General Manager in South Africa. He explained that there were four such incidents in February 2020, which was the month immediately before the lockdown ban. And in September, the first month after the ban’s lifting, there were twelve cases – roughly a four-times increase.
In the meantime, authorities in the United Kingdom last week have ratcheted down on bringing charges against BAT after an inquiry into bribery accusations spanning over four years in at least three countries in East Africa.
The bribery allegations made against the cigarette manufacturer are connected with officials in Burundi, Comoros, and Rwanda since 2015 using unlawful payments to get help in blocking standards put in place as part of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
However, these allegations of bribery are not only concerning BAT. One of the series of investigations conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project found that the top cigarette manufacturers in the tobacco industry in the world also tried for many years to suppress the innovation of a system intended to check the black market tobacco trade in the EU.
This has left the bloc with a redundant system. Yet, the big companies are beginning to lobby for its embrace in Africa.