Fears of illegal cigarette plants operating as tobacco seizures soar 

Lobby group cites multi-tonne hauls of raw tobacco, worth an estimated €8m, seized in recent months
Fears of illegal cigarette plants operating as tobacco seizures soar 

A Revenue seizure of 10.5 million cigarettes at Dublin Port.

Cigarette retailers suspect that illegal cigarette factories are operating along the Border such is the amount of raw tobacco being seized this year.

The country’s first ever underground commercial-scale factory was uncovered in north Co Louth in March 2018, which was estimated to be capable of producing 250,000 cigarettes per hour.

The discovery, along with 66 tonnes of raw tobacco and around 25 million cigarettes, revealed the scale and sophistication of the illicit trade, operated in this case by a foreign organised crime gang.

Retailers Against Smuggling said the amount of raw tobacco seized by Revenue so far this year indicated the likelihood of “large-scale cigarette factories” operating on the island of Ireland.

The group's national spokesperson Benny Gilsenan said that to date Revenue had announced four major seizures of loose raw tobacco with a combined estimated retail value of €8.1m representing a potential loss to the Exchequer of €6.7m.

Details published on the Revenue website show a spate of major hauls in the space of six weeks or so in June and July:

  • 4 tonnes of raw tobacco seized in Dublin Port on June 16;

  • 3.5 tonnes or raw tobacco seized in Dublin Port on July 7;

  • 4 tonnes seized in Dublin Port on July 20;

  • 31kg seized at Dublin Airport on July 30 

“The significant volume of the consignments being seized, and the elaborate means being used to conceal this raw tobacco suggests that it’s unlikely the product is intended for direct resale to the consumer on the black market,” said Mr Gilsenan.

“The recent spike in these types of seizures has risen suspicion among legitimate retailers that the intended destination is likely to be illegal cigarette making factories operated by criminal gangs in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.” 

He cited the discovery by gardaí and Revenue of the first illegal commercial-scale cigarette production plant found in the State in Jenkinstown,  Co Louth, capable of churning out 250,000 cigarettes per hour.

“During that raid up to 66 tonnes of raw tobacco were seized which gives us the sense of the volume of tobacco product required to run such an operation,” he said. 

He said retailers selling legal cigarettes and tobacco were concerned that the volume of raw tobacco being seized at Irish ports indicated that similar underground facilities were operational on the island.

“For example, we know that roughly 13 to 15 million cigarettes could be produced from the 13.5 tonnes of raw tobacco seized alone, and we suspect further large volumes are getting into the country undetected,” Mr Gilsenan said.

He said that since the plant was found in Jenkinstown, several other illegal factories have been uncovered, primarily around the Border regions.

He said this suggested “a link to illegal cross-Border trade and criminal activity”.

He said the most recent seizure of an illegal factory on the island was in Co  Armagh in July this year, which could produce 390m cigarettes a year.

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