Ireland: cigarette smuggling ring from China dismantled

by Irish Examiner

Eight million cigarettes smuggled into the country from China have been seized by customs officers and gardaí.

The haul, worth €3.4 million, was discovered in a container attached to a truck on the M1 near Drogheda, Co Louth, last night. Two men were arrested in relation to the find, with a 56-year-old later released without charge.

A file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions. The second man, aged 41, remains in custody in Navan Garda Station.

The unstamped contraband Benson & Hedges cigarettes had arrived at Dublin Port in the 40ft container from China.  The Revenue’s Customs Service said that if sold, the contraband cigarette haul would have cost the exchequer nearly €3m.

Last year 178.3 million cigarettes worth €75.1m were seized. Retailers Against Smuggling, the representative group for Ireland’s tobaccoretailers, commended the work of officials but said higher fines need to be imposed on smugglers.

Spokesman Benny Gilsenan said 2011 has begun where 2010 left off, with Ireland continuing to be a target for national and international smugglers.

"Major criminals are using Ireland for the illegal cigarette trade due to the high profit margins they can make from selling illegal tobacco and the paltry fines that are being handed out," he said. "The average fine for a person caught smuggling in 2010 was just over €500, despite the maximum fine being increased to €126,970 in last year’s Finance Bill."

Mr Gilsenan said that, despite 31% of the adult population smoking — approximately one million people — shop sales are continuing to fall with the Irish Exchequer losing more than half a billion in 2010. "It’s no exaggeration to say that livelihoods are on the line because of tobacco smuggling.

"These people need to be hit with the maximum fine permitted by law in all cases," Mr Gilsenan said.