Arrests in Netherlands, Poland after 5.4m fake cigarette swoop

An international law enforcement operation involving the Netherlands, Poland and Europol has resulted in the arrest of 30 members of a prolific organised crime gang flooding Europe with millions of counterfeit cigarettes.

A total of 94 tonnes of tobacco and 5.4m counterfeit cigarettes have been removed from circulation as a result of the operation. This gang is also believed to be involved in violent robberies.

Code-named operation PITBUUL, the operation took part in two phases. A first action day was carried out in the Netherlands at the end of March. Two illegal factories were dismantled in the Dutch cities of Schaijk and Heerlen with a production capacity of over 1m cigarettes per day, equivalent to a tax loss of over €243,000 per day per factory.

A total of 21 Polish and Ukrainian workers were arrested on site and 5.4m fake cigarettes were seized, alongside 40 tonnes of raw tobacco and 800 kilos of hookah tobacco.

A second action day was carried out in Poland this month to arrest the criminal masterminds running this gang, thought to have cost the Polish tax authorities in excess of €11m.

On this occasion, Polish law enforcement raided a dozen of addresses across the country. As a result, nine individuals were arrested and 54 tonnes of tobacco were seized, alongside machinery used for the production of cigarettes. Officers also seized firearms and weapons, alongside clothing resembling police uniforms, radio communication devices and signal jammers.

The investigation is still ongoing to try to find potential links to other European countries.

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