Ireland's Revenue cracks down on illicit cigarettes with seizures

A raid in Ireland has resulted in the seizure of about 20,000 cigarettes and 24 litres of counterfeit vodka worth almost €12,000.

The raid, conducted by Revenue officers and gardaí in Annacotty, Co. Limerick, intercepted a car transporting the illicit goods and also seized the vehicle.

The cigarettes, labelled with the Excellence brand, together with the vodka, were valued at approximately €11,800, which represented a potential loss to the Exchequer of €9,300, Revenue said.

An Irish man and women have been questioned and will likely be prosecuted.

The raid is part of an ongoing operation into the black market sale and supply of illegal cigarettes and tobacco in Ireland.

Already this year, Revenue has lead a number of sting operations in the wider crackdown. Earlier this month a Slovakian woman was questioned in regards to 27,000 unstamped Marlboro Gold and L&M branded cigarettes that were discovered in an apartment in Co Dublin. The cigarettes had a retail value of more than €14,175.

Also earlier this month, a larger haul of 65,000 unstamped cigarettes and 7.5kg of unstamped tobacco was seized in Cork, which revenue said had a retail value in excess of €40,000, representing a loss to the Exchequer of €32,000. Fifty-seven litres of vodka and a car were also seized and a Lithuanian man was questioned.

And in January, Revenue officers at Rosslare Europort seized approximately 60,000 cigarettes worth more than €32,500 when they stopped and searched two cars as they disembarked a ferry from Cherbourg, France.

Revenue has said the illegal trade in tobacco products is one of the most serious threats to the Irish Exchequer, and has prioritised tobacco smuggling in a bid to target those who don't meet their tax obligations, deter further criminal activity and reduce the health threat from illegal cigarettes.

Revenue said the illicit cigarette market had remained relatively consistent over recent years. In Ireland as many as 1 in 5 cigarettes may be illicit although an Ipsos MRBI survey puts the illicit market accounting for 11 per cent in 2014 and 12 per cent in 2015. The 2015 figure amounts to the consumption in that year of an estimated 488 million illegal cigarettes, representing a loss to the Exchequer of €192m.

The analysis found that less than 1 per cent of illicit fags were considered counterfeit with the main bulk being smuggled genuine products.

In terms of seizures, Revenue seized 68 million cigarettes with a value of €34.4m and 2,364kg of tobacco worth €1.1m in 2015, the most recent figures available. This compared with 53.4 million cigarettes and 9,834kg of tobacco seized in 2014. Meanwhile, 105 people were convicted for smuggling or other illicit cigarette offences in 2015.

"We continued to deploy a wide range of enforcement action against the smuggling and sale of illicit cigarettes and other tobacco products in 2015," the annual Revenue report said.

"Our aim is to seize the illicit goods, disrupt the activities of the organised crime groups behind the smuggling, and to prosecute those responsible. In April 2015, a new tobacco tax stamp was introduced incorporating a number of new security features. This helps to combat counterfeit and fraudulent tobacco products."

The World Health Organisation estimates that 10 per cent of the global cigarette market is illicit.

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