Profits of tobacco smugglers are higher than court imposed fines

Criminal gangs are earning profits equal to almost a thousand times the fines imposed on smugglers by the courts, according to the tobacco industry.

Profits of tobacco smugglers are higher than court imposed fines

A report published by JTI Ireland — a leading manufacturer of cigarettes — called on the Government to set up an interdepartmental committee to focus on the illegal trade and to ensure adequate funding for both the gardaí and Customs officials.

The report documents the various smuggling routes into the country:

- Container traffic up through the Suez Canal or up the other side of north Africa (past the Canary Islands) and either directly to Irish ports or overland through Europe;

- Truck deliveries from eastern Europe, the Balkans, or Italy, through Europe, and onwards by truck via Britain or by container from Belgium and Netherlands;

- Flights from Russia and the Baltic States or from Spain and Portugal.

The JTI report said the illegal trade is costing the State up to €250m in lost revenue from legal purchases and is depriving the retail sector of up to €450m.

Industry figures estimate that criminal gangs are earning around €3m a week — or €156m a year — through the sale of illegal cigarettes, which sell for about half the price of what they cost in shops.

The report said the average fine imposed by the courts in 2013 for illegal tobacco-related offences was €2,830, with a total charge of €169,750. It said 87 people were prosecuted during the year.

The report cited Derek Byrne, the assistant Garda commissioner, who told the Oireachtas Justice Committee in January that cigarette smuggling had been identified as a low-risk, high-profit enterprise for organised crime groups with the EU.

The JTI report mentioned a dedicated Garda operation, codenamed Decipher, which was rolled out in January 2013 to target the illegal tobacco trade, including suspected distribution and sale centres.

It said Revenue had stated recently that criminal gangs had been moving away from very large consignments in favour of smaller volumes, often transported in conjunction with legal products.

The report said Garda and Revenue operations were “predicated on sufficient funding and resourcing being made available”.

JTI called on the Government to establish an interdepartmental committee to focus on the illegal trade of all products.

“It’s clear that the pragmatic law enforcement approach to fighting the illegal trade can work,” said John Freda, general manager of JTI Ireland. “However, this must be married with a co-ordinated Government approach at the decision-making level, and this is not happening.”

Mr Fresa said Finance Minister Michael Noonan had recently committed to the establishment of an informal working group on the illicit trade, which Mr Freda said was a step forward.

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