From: The Irish Sun
By STEPHEN BREEN
ILLEGAL cigarettes help Ireland’s most vicious crime gangs rake in more than €25million every year.
They also cost the Exchequer €300million in lost revenue, annually.
So it’s no wonder more Irish criminals are embracing one of the world’s most lucrative scams — the illegal smokes trade.
Smugglers are coining it by buying 10,000 cigarettes in countries such Dubai for as little as €30 — before selling just 200 of them here for €60.
Besides the gigantic profit margins, the other incentive for gangsters is they won’t face the same punishment they would if they were smuggling cocaine or arms.
Cigarettes are global black market’s No1 commodity — and that’s why we have as many as ten well-organised criminal gangs in Ireland who are heavily involved.
New data obtained by the Irish Sun shows 67million fags have been seized so far this year. The items had a retail value of €30,252,083 — and were worth €24,054,259 in VAT.
Other figures show there has been a rise in the number of people convicted for cigarette smuggling.
So far, in 2012, there have been 38 prosecutions for the offence and fines totalling €63,750. The courts imposed 18 jail sentences, of which four were suspended.
Customs also prosecuted 48 people for illegally selling cigarettes with €84,200 in fines imposed. A total of 17 custodial sentences were imposed, with ten suspended.
And Irish Customs’ Criminal Investigations Unit boss Tom Talbot has pledged to continue the fight against the smugglers.
He said: “It takes much needed funds from the Exchequer, hurts legitimate trade and funds criminal activity.
“Businesses and the public have an important role to play here. If they have any information regarding the smuggling or sale of illegal cigarettes, they can contact Revenue in confidence.
“We will now be increasing our co-operation in the fight against organised cigarette smuggling by sharing intelligence and developing new strategies together.
“This isn’t a victimless crime — the only things the criminals are interested in is making profit. The top investigator also vowed to confront smaller gangs muscling in on the illegal smuggling of roll-up tobacco.
He said: “The fledgling groups coming through are less professional but they operate knowing there’s enough business for everyone.
“They’re also moving into the tobacco trade simply due to supply and demand.”
In 2012, tobacco with a retail value of €1,006,770 — potentially yielding the State €800,518 in VAT — has been seized.
The biggest dodgy fags bust this year was made on on April 12 at Dublin Port when 38million cigarettes were seized — with a loss of €13.1m to the Exchequer.
The Golden Eagiie cigs, from Vietnam, were disguised as ‘Wood Briquettes’ and shipped to Ireland via the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
Revenue Commissioner Liam Irwin said the seizure was a “significant blow” to organised crime.
He added: “The seizure was the result of profiling by Customs and has really damaged the criminals who brought them here.
“Tobacco smuggling is organised fraud on a global scale.
“It brings criminality into our communities and robs millions of euro from the State each year.”
The latest seizure was made on July 9 when officers seized 7million cigarettes, also at Dublin Port.
The items were worth €2.7m — and a loss to the Exchequer of €2.1m.
Profits from the sale of dodgy gaspers directly fund other elements of organised crime including drug dealing and arms smuggling.
But there are also health risks from the fags made in back-street factories in Eastern Europe, Cyprus and Asia.
Mr Talbot warned: “Revenue would like to remind anyone tempted to buy cheap cigarettes that they provide an unknown set of health risks as the product is not the subject of quality control.”
Many of the cigs coming into Ireland, via an increasing array of routes, are the “cheap white” variety.
They’re a low-grade style made by small manufacturers in Russia, Cyprus and Malaysia and first emerged here in 2008.
The illegal trade costs the European Union €10billion a year, while an estimated €40bn to €50bn annually is lost across the globe.