Belgium busts big illicit cigarette production network

Belgian customs officers have arrested 40 people and seized tens of millions of counterfeit cigarettes in raids targeting illegal production sites across the country.

In addition to the cigarettes falsely branded as Marlboro, Richmond, Prince and Regina, customs officers also discovered tonnes of tobacco, cigarette filters, empty packs and glue, according to the Associated Press. The enforcement operation targeted 10 different production sites.

Cigarettes seized in Belgium are mainly destined for the British and French markets, where excise duties are higher, said AP.

A study published last year by KPMG – commissioned by tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) – showed that consumption of illicit cigarettes in the EU fell below 8 per cent of total cigarette use in 2019, but was still equivalent to nearly 39bn smokes and €9.5bn in lost tax revenues.

It also suggested that imports of illicit cigarettes from non-EU countries such as Ukraine and Belarus declined in 2019, with "increasing volumes from illegal factories within the EU."

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