Customs seize €6m smuggled cigarettes

A criminal consortium led by Irish and British nationals would have earned up to €6m in profit if a massive consignment of smuggled cigarettes had not been intercepted at Drogheda Port yesterday.

Customs officers seized a total of 32m cigarettes and 4,500kg of tobacco with a legal retail value of around €14m. It is the largest such haul in Europe this year.

Revenue bosses said the operation, which involved law-enforcement agencies in three EU countries, targeted the activities of an “international crime group headed up by Irish and British nationals and based in Europe”.

The interception represents a huge financial blow to the consortium. Sources suggests they may have paid a maximum of €1m for the haul of cigarettes, and at most another €500,000 on transport and other operating costs.

The cigarettes tend to be sold in Ireland for half of the retail value. Based on a total retail value of €14m, this would suggest an operating profit of around €7m.

Once the purchase and transport costs are factored in, the gang could have earned between €5.5m and €6m in profits.

Customs suspect the gang owned the MV Shingle vessel, which is “unusual”. Officers hope to be in a position to confiscate the ship, which would be another blow to the gang.

Revenue suspect the group is a consortium of gangs from Ireland, Britain, and the continent, including an organised crime gang straddling the border.

Officers said the shipment would have gone to a warehouse on either side of the border, where the cigarettes would have been broken down and distributed within 24 or 48 hours.

Revenue commissioner Liam Irwin, who led the operation, said the criminal consortium had to purchase and ship the cigarettes from China or Asia to Slovenia. From there, they were shipped, around last February, to Lisbon.

Mr Irwin said the shipment spent a considerable time at Lisbon, perhaps for maintenance and counter-surveillance reasons, before arriving off Drogheda at the end of last week.

“It’s very unusual now to get large shipments like this as they are considered by gangs to be too risky,” said Mr Irwin. “They tend to be broken down into smaller sizes. That’s the experience across Europe and they are harder to intercept.”

The bill of landing for the MV Shingle said it was carrying potatoes. The crew of 13, all foreign nationals, have been questioned, but no charges are expected.

Revenue, supported by gardaí, conducted a number of raids yesterday and removed documentation and evidence. Sources said “some useful material” was seized, but that the DPP will decide on possible charges.

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