Gardaí and Customs officials acting on tip-offs from corner shops swooped on homes across Dublin today in a major offensive against rogue cigarette traders.
Two people were cautioned in the dawn raids as the authorities seized tobacco thought to have a retail value of around €100,000 as well as computers and documents.
Both agreed to sell undercover agents cigarettes during test purchases by officials carried out in the capital yesterday.
Files on the suspected illegal traders are being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions, according to Rory O’Connor, Principal Officer with the Revenue Customs.
“Part of the reason for the operation this morning was disruption but a major part of it was getting at the volumes, we want to hit them were it hurts,” he said.
“And the people who we intercepted this morning are players in the business.”
Mr O’Connor heads up Operation Hawkeye which is targeting the supply and sale of contraband cigarettes and tobacco throughout the state.
He said ordinary corner shops that are being hit hard by the illegal trade are fighting back by alerting the Customs and Gardai to the criminals involved.
“We have come under some pressure from legitimate retail outlets,” he said.
“They are looking out their shop window and seeing people buying their 40 fags outside. They are saying these guys are doing them out of house and home.
“The shop owners are relying on people who come in to buy their 20 fags to buy the likes of a newspaper, a sandwich and a bottle of coke as well.
“And some of them are experiencing a drop in trade of between 20% and 25% and they put it down to the illegal cigarettes.”
Five homes – a house in Lucan and four flats in the north inner city – were searched during this morning’s operation involving six garda officers and 20 Customs officers.
In one home alone 200,000 cigarettes and almost 90 kgs of rolling tobacco was seized.
Mr O’Connor said that while the authorities were initially focused on securing prosecutions the Revenue tax inspectors would also be notified.
“Obviously we have an interest in people who are operating illegal trading in cigarettes from a tax point of view as well as from a Customs point of view,” he said.
Customs officials in Dublin Port and Airport have seized 34 million cigarettes this year already with a potential loss to the exchequer of around €8.5m.