17 arrests and 67 million cigarettes seized in major customs bust

17 arrests have been made and 67 million cigarettes were seized in a major customs bust after law enforcement authorities from 15 EU Member States and the UK teamed up last month.

A total seizure worth €35.82 million was made by the operation to dismantle a criminal network illegally trading cigarettes, which also prevented a tax loss estimated at €30 million from this illegal trade.

Supported by Europol and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the joint operation took place between November 2 and 13 and was led by the customs departments of Lithuania and the UK, and facilitated by intelligence analysis of excise duty suspension abuse.

The fraud scheme consisted of illegally diverting cigarettes from EU internal and external transit customs procedures to the black market without paying millions in taxes.

The operation led to:

  • 17 suspects arrested;
  • 67 million cigarettes and 2.6 tonnes of tobacco seized worth €35.82 million, with 88 per cent of the cigarettes seized produced in Belarus;
  • the most significant seizures of the illegally traded cigarettes were made in Lithuania (28.75 million), the UK (9 million), Poland (6 million), Ireland (3.5 million), Romania (2.2 million), Sweden (500 000), Latvia (740 000) and Croatia (150 000);
  • Ten vehicles seized in eight of the participating countries.

This joint operation targeted a fraud mechanism of duty suspension abuse:

  • cigarettes produced inside the EU and declared for export or intra-EU delivery were moved under VAT and excise suspension. However, the goods never left EU customs territory or were not delivered within the EU as indicated in customs procedures and the relevant documents;
  • cigarettes withdrawn from transit regime or released into free circulation in the EU under VAT and excise suspension were distributed illegally without payment of these taxes and duties.

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Written by

Matthew Roscoe

Originally from the UK, Matthew is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]