Customs officials stamp out illegal cigarette factory

Customs officials stamp out illegal cigarette factory
Credit: Belga

On Wednesday, Belgian customs authorities raided an illegal cigarette factory, seizing 30 tonnes of tobacco just before production started.

The factory, located in a warehouse 59 km east of Antwerp in Balen, contained machines for processing tobacco and cutting cigarettes, according to Customs and Excise officials.

“The seized, unprocessed tobacco represents €6.5 million in evaded duties (excise duties and VAT),” said a statement from customs officials.

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Illegal cigarette production is a problem across Europe. In 2020, a KPMG study found that 34.2 billion contraband and counterfeit cigarette sticks were created – 7.8% of E.U. cigarette consumption, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training reports. Organised crime runs these factories, often employing workers recruited from far away countries.

In August, Belgian officials raided ten factories, arresting 40 workers, seizing tons of tobacco and millions of cigarettes. The United Kingdom and France have particularly high excise duties on cigarettes, making each desirable a market for the illegal cigarette trade.

The Balen factory raid occurred before it became operational, customs officials said. Police arrested six suspects during the raid, including four Bulgarians and two Belgians. Customs officials found living and sleeping quarters for at least 20 workers on site.

An investigation is ongoing.

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