Editor’s Note: The following article is deserving of wide recognition by federal policy and law enforcement officials. It explains how cigarette smuggling is financing a notorious terrorist group which recently claimed blame for beheading an American journalist.
This article is part of our “Border Control Week”
The sea is the circulatory system of the world economy, through which the economic blood of trade, ideas, and information flows. At odds with this healthy economic lifeblood are the pathogens of theft, corruption, and illicit trafficking. In addition to patently illegal contraband, such as narcotics and weapons, numerous illicit goods move through the maritime transportation system, avoiding taxes and undermining legitimate trade. Tobacco is one of the most commonly smuggled illicit goods around the world. The commodity moves in multiple directions, sometimes both to and from the same countries, making it challenging to understand the traffic flow. Specifically, the distribution of substandard, untaxed cigarettes through the Eastern Mediterranean involves a complex criminal network of producers, smugglers, and dealers and benefits nefarious actors across the Levant.
These substandard cigarettes are often cheaply made in Eastern Europe, circumventing European Union safety regulations. Brands such Prestige and Victory are packed aboard container ships in Bulgaria which move through the Black Sea, then into the Aegean via the Bosporus Strait. From there, some of the contraband shipments make their way to Syria, while others continue down to the Red Sea and around to the Persian Gulf. The Gulf-bound cigarettes likely continue into Iraq and Turkey. In the Eastern Med, many are offloaded at the Syrian port of Latakia. The cigarette distribution network in Western Syria is controlled by and benefits the Assad family while bypassing various international sanctions against the authoritarian regime.