Another bust made in illicit tobacco 'hub' Belgium

The authorities in Belgium have intercepted 57 million cigarettes and 48 tonnes of cut tobacco with a tax value of around €32m ($32m), in the latest crackdown on the illicit tobacco trade in the EU.

The operation was organised by Belgian customs and supported by Europol, and focused on a day of action that included raids on warehouses and a private residence in Belgium, acting on intelligence provided by the Lithuanian authorities.

Several people of Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainian and Jordanian nationality have been taken into custody.

Law enforcement discovered two full production lines for cigarettes "bearing a variety of well-known name brands," as well as a "massive number" of empty packages, filters, cigarette paper, glue, cardboard and packaging film, said Europol in a statement.

The market value of the seized cigarettes amounts to around €73m in the UK, which was "the presumed country of distribution for the majority of the products," according to the international police agency.

The raid also uncovered seven new machines intended for a new production and packaging line, and is further evidence of illicit cigarette production being set up within Europe rather than coming into the region from other countries.

The searches led to the discovery of a variety of clandestine production sites, as well as warehouses for storage of "enormous quantities of tobacco products", some with sleeping quarters for workers on the premises.

Belgium is emerging as a hot spot for fake cigarette production, with five illegal tobacco production sites and 15 storage warehouses uncovered and dismantled in the country this year alone.

Over the same period, more than 274m cigarettes, 88 tonnes of cut tobacco, 65 tonnes of water pipe tobacco and 40 tonnes of raw tobacco has been confiscated, representing evaded taxes of €139m.

"Factors such as its proximity to the French and British borders, rising excise duty rates in neighbouring countries, and short distances to certain black markets, have together led to Belgium becoming a major hub for illegal tobacco production and trade," said Europol.

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