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The FIOD rounds up an international criminal organisation in a major investigation into illegal tobacco

29 oktober 2019 08:08

The FIOD arrested 28th October four main suspects in an investigation into an internationally operating criminal organisation that is believed to have been engaged in the importation, processing, storage of and trade in tobacco. It concerns four men aged 56, 45, 51 and 55 from Vaals, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom. They are suspected of excise fraud, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation.

14 co-suspects were arrested. Nine of them were arrested in an illegal cigarette factory in Stramproy that was probably supplied by the main suspects’ organisation. In addition, three persons were arrested in the immediate vicinity of a storage facility for tobacco and machinery in Eygelshoven and two near Eindhoven airport.

It is believed that the organisation traded more than 624,500 kg of smoking tobacco. As a result the Dutch treasury missed out on more than €67 million in excise duties. Eighteen searches were conducted in the Netherlands and eleven searches took place abroad. The investigation is supervised by the National Public Prosecutor’s Office for Serious Fraud, Environmental Crime and Asset Confiscation.

The criminal investigation is aimed at a criminal organisation consisting of various natural persons and legal entities in the Netherlands and abroad. The criminal organisation presumably purchased tobacco in Italy. The tobacco was presumably processed in the Netherlands and then sold to persons and organisations in the Netherlands and abroad in order to be used in illegal cigarette factories. In addition, the organisation was involved in the purchase, repair and sale of machinery for illegal cigarette production and allegedly mediated in the sale of illegally produced cigarettes.

Searches in the Netherlands and abroad

During the day of action more than 150 FIOD investigation officers and 80 Customs officers and  money/tobacco detection dogs in the Netherlands conducted 18 searches in 4 houses and 14 business properties and warehouses in Brunssum, Heerlen, Landgraaf, Vaals, Stramproy, Zoetermeer, Wanroij, Dieren and the municipalities of Leudal, Peel en Maas and Kerkrade. In addition, 11 searches took place outside the Netherlands.

A large quantity of counterfeit cigarettes, blanks for the production of packets, machines for processing tobacco and for the production of cigarettes, four fork-lift trucks, approx. 45,000 kg of tobacco representing an excise loss of approx. €4.7 million, cash in various currencies with a value of approx. €44,000, credit cards, various bank accounts, an unopened safe and a very valuable passenger car were seized. In addition, a large number of data carriers, mobile phones and business accounts were seized.

Quick international exchange of information

The special aspect of this investigation is that we were able to map out the organisation by continuously exchanging intelligence with investigation services in other countries and continuously analysing the exchanged intelligence. When relevant events took place or when foreign persons or vehicles came into the picture, this was almost immediately shared with the foreign authorities concerned to enable them to investigate. Due to a quick exchange of information it was possible to respond directly to events during the investigation. As a result, this year and last year illegal cigarette factories in the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic were dismantled that had a direct link with this criminal organisation.

The action was supported by investigation officers, judges and public prosecutors in Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom.

International cooperation

In order to realise an efficient, secure and quick international exchange of information about the activities of this organisation the Eurojust and Europol channels were used. In addition, Europol played an important role in analysing the exchanged intelligence. Specifically for this purpose Europol set up an Operational Taskforce in which officers of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs of the United Kingdom and officers of the FIOD and Europol cooperated closely to map out the activities of the organisation and its customers. Eurojust supervised the preparation and coordination of this international day of action. Eurojust also assisted in the preparation and issue of European Investigation Orders, Freezing Orders and Arrest Warrants.

Tackling the trade in illegal cigarettes and excise fraud

Excise fraud causes a lot of damage to the treasury and undermines the government’s anti-smoking policy. Illegal cigarettes also contain more harmful substances than legally produced cigarettes, as a result of which they are an additional threat to public health. The large profits that criminals make with excise fraud, the illegal production of and trade in illegal cigarettes and tobacco are used to build up criminal assets. The illegal production of tobacco products and the possession of illegally produced tobacco products are crimes that are penalised with prison sentences of up to four years, leading a criminal organisation is penalised with a prison sentence of up to eight years. It leads to unfair competition with the (Dutch) retail trade. Customs, the FIOD, the Public Prosecution Service and their international partners cooperate closely to dismantle the criminal organisations involved and to recover the proceeds made.

For information: Wietske Visser, +31 6-18 60 77 61