Written Answers - Illicit Trade in Tobacco.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 694 No. 4

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  143.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan  Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan   asked the Minister for Finance  Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan   the action being taken to combat tobacco smuggling and associated criminality; if he will investigate if retailers are being investigated for the sale of alleged illegal cigarettes here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41300/09]

  144.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan  Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan   asked the Minister for Finance  Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan   the action being taken to combat tobacco smuggling; if he is liasing with EU or international colleagues in the US or China to address the smuggling of illegal cigarettes and associated criminality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41301/09]

  151.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan  Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan   asked the Minister for Finance  Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan   the amount of cigarettes and tobacco products seized by customs and excise at Dublin Airport for the years 2005 to date in 2009; the action he is taking to combat the problem of millions of euro worth of cigarettes being smuggled into this country; if he is targeting retailers of the alleged illegal cigarettes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41302/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  I propose to take Questions Nos. 143, 144 and 151 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the collection of tobacco products tax and tackling the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco products, that the [893]measures taken to tackle cigarette smuggling involve a combination of cargo and passenger profiling, intelligence gathering and mutual assistance co-operation with other Customs services. Where appropriate, x-ray scanning technology is used to detect and seize contraband in maritime and air transport. In this regard a second mobile container scanner has been purchased and is due to be put into operation shortly.

Where feasible, large consignments of contraband cigarettes detected at the point of importation are placed under surveillance and allowed to proceed to their destination under a controlled delivery, with a view to identifying and prosecuting those responsible for the importation. Revenue, An Garda Síochána and other law enforcement agencies mount joint operations where appropriate. The multi-agency code-named Operation Samhna, which resulted in the seizure of in excess of 120 million cigarettes at Greenore on 27 October 2009, is a prime example of the fruits of multi-agency co-operation in the fight against organised crime involving tobacco smuggling.

Revenue policy also entails close liaison with individual tobacco manufacturers and the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee (ITMAC) with a view to identifying illicit cigarettes on sale in the State, current trends and trading patterns. In addition, Ireland, along with other Member States, has ratified two international agreements concluded by European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) with global cigarette manufacturers Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International, with a view to tackling the illicit trade in counterfeit and contraband cigarettes. There is also close co-operation and sharing of information between Revenue and the Office of Tobacco Control (OTC).

I can advise the Deputy that Revenue enforcement officers have been conducting checks at retail outlets, markets, and distribution centres in an ongoing operation entitled Operation Downstream since December 2007. This operation focuses on seizing illicit cigarettes that evaded detection at the point of importation. In the course of this operation, 208 seizures totalling 8.7 m cigarettes were made during the first nine months of 2009. These checks are carried out on the basis of specific information received concerning certain outlets and at premises such as markets where contraband cigarettes are known to be on sale. In a parallel ongoing operation targeting cigarette packs bearing counterfeit tax stamps, checks have been made at more than 200 retail stores in the Dublin region in the course of 2009 to date. This operation was instigated following the detection of bogus Irish Tobacco Tax Stamps on counterfeit cigarettes smuggled from China.

The intelligence and operational strategy is backed up by a robust prosecution policy which has resulted in 125 convictions for cigarette smuggling or dealing in smuggled cigarettes during the first 10 months of 2009. A significant number of other cases are already before the Courts awaiting hearing or are being processed for prosecution. The Revenue Commissioners actively engage on an ongoing basis with OLAF and also with other Customs Administrations in the Member States on the matter of cigarette smuggling. OLAF has set up a special task force titled Task Group Cigarettes for this purpose. Revenue has sought the assistance of OLAF’s Liaison Officer in Beijing in a number of investigations, involving large seizures of contraband cigarettes in maritime containers from China, by requesting the assistance of the Chinese Authorities. In addition, OLAF have coordinated and supported other major investigations being conducted by Revenue involving cigarette smuggling from the US and more recently from the Philippines.

It is important to point out that, under Community law, passengers arriving from another EU member state are entitled to bring duty paid cigarettes and tobacco for personal use. As regards the statistics requested by the Deputy regarding seizures of cigarettes and tobacco products at Dublin Airport, the position is set out in the following table.

[894]Cigarettes

Year Number of Seizures Quantity Seized Estimated Retail Value Total Duties (Excise & VAT)
2005 1,531 18,339,229 6,299,525 5,043,288
2006 1,957 22,775,662 7,823,440 6,263,307
2007 2,542 38,796,520 13,326,605 10,669,043
2008 3,197 37,923,877 13,804,291 11,073,772
2009* 2,630 27,823,562 11,720,675 9,327,849

Other Tobacco Products

Year Number of Seizures Quantity Seized Kgs Estimated Retail Value Total Duties (Excise & VAT)
2005 72 429 122,694 92,394
2006 64 254 72,644 54,704
2007 113 785 244,510 169,065
2008 201 1,685 543,918 418,217
2009* 157 2,536 909,815 717,586


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