Over a hundred million counterfeit cigarettes have been seized by customs authorities in the first weeks of January, a number which nearly shatters the record set in all of 2019.
The cigarettes were discovered in separate shipments identified as coming into the country from South East Asia, according to the federal finance service (FPS Finance).
Eight people have been arrested as part of the investigation by customs officials, with all detainees claiming to be of Turkish nationality, Het Nieuwsblad reports.
In total, the FPS Finance said that more than 126 million fake cigarettes had been seized since the first batch was discovered on 9 January in warehouses in and around Antwerp.
The largest number of cigarettes were found in storehouses in Antwerp (30 million units) and in Brecht (86 million), after the first shipment of 10 million was found in Stabroek.
Customs officials said the discovery, made in the first days of January, was one of the biggest, comparable to what is normally seized during a year.
They also said that it was not immediately clear whether Belgium was the final destination for the fake units
Last year, customs dismantled 4 counterfeit factories and intercepted 174 million cigarettes, up from 111 million in 2018 and 114 million in 2017.
“We have no idea what is in those counterfeit cigarettes, most likely, it is bad quality tobacco and other products and they are made in unsanitary conditions,” Francis Adyns of the FPS Finance told Radio 1, adding that consumers may not always notice the difference.
The seized products included counterfeits of the brands Rothmans Blue, John Player Special and EM@IL, with the total quantity seized representing an estimated €65 million in evaded import and excise duties as well as VAT.