Fake cigarettes production line shut down in Slovenia

An illegal production line that was flooding the French market with millions of counterfeit cigarettes has been dismantled in Slovenia after an enforcement operation.

The shut down resulted from an investigation between the French and Slovenian authorities, backed by Europol, which focused on an organised crime group.

Action days against members of the network in France gave the investigators intelligence about the source of the illicit cigarettes, pointing to various locations in Slovenia.

On January 25, more than a hundred officers from the Slovenian National Police Force (Policija) and Financial Administration (Finančna Uprava) simultaneously raided 11 sites, including industrial premises and private residences, assisted by officers from France's Gendarmerie Nationale, magistrates from the Bordeaux Interregional Specialised Court (JIRS), and Europol. 

A number of production sites were discovered in warehouses located in remote areas of Slovenia and over 26 tonnes of tobacco were seized along with 29 million filters, manufacturing machines and 10 tonnes of printed papers for packaging.

The amount of cigarettes which could have been produced with the seized merchandise would have had a value of €13m on the French market, according to Europol.

Two leaders of the criminal network in charge of the manufacture of cigarettes were arrested on the ground of European arrest warrants, one in Croatia, one in Slovenia. They will be handed over to the judicial authorities of the Bordeaux JIRS.

Earlier in the same investigation, the Slovenian Financial Administration seized an additional 12 tonnes of cut tobacco.

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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