OLAF-led operation seizes large amount of smuggled cigarettes

Ville Itälä congratulated the Italian Guardia di Finanza for the successful result

Photo: EU Ville Itälä.

Following a complex operation leaded by OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, the Italian Guardia di Finanza seized in May three lorries in the Port of Trieste containing nearly 55 million cigarettes destined for the EU black market.

The signal came from the Turkish Customs, informing OLAF back in August 2018 about a suspicious convoy consisting of three lorries loaded with a significant quantity of cigarettes of the brand ‘Sipan 2015’. The convoy was arriving by ferry to the port of Trieste from Mersin in Turkey, destined for a Spanish company in the Canary Islands. The transport was considered as being at high risk for potential smuggling.

OLAF subsequently informed colleagues in the General Headquarters at the Guardia di Finanza in Rome. The lorries containing the cigarettes remained at the port of Trieste for several months, and were secretly kept under surveillance by Guardia di Finanza. Meanwhile, OLAF supported the Italian colleagues in liaising with the Spanish authorities to investigate the company declared on paper as the consignee of the cigarettes.

The Guardia di Finanza could ascertain that behind this convoy was a criminal organisation that, through using documentation of fictitious or unaware Italian and foreign companies, was trying to appear to move out the lorries and the cigarettes from the port of Trieste. The lorries would in fact be only moved on paper, as the sole aim of the operation was to smuggle the cigarettes into the EU without paying customs duties and taxes.

With enough evidence confirming the suspicions of illegal operation, the Prosecution Office in Trieste issued an order to seize the lorries. On 8 May 2020, a total of 54,711,900 cigarettes were seized and prevented from entering the EU black market. It is estimated that the smuggled cigarettes would have incurred a total loss of around €11 million to EU and EU Member States budgets.

We congratulate our Italian colleagues for this successful operation, OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said, noting that this seizure is at the same time also a very concrete example of the important role that OLAF plays in the protection of the EU’s financial interests. Through our close cooperation with authorities in the Member States and our partnerships with third countries, our activities contribute to exceptional results, he also stressed and expressed gratitude  to the Turkish Customs for their excellent cooperation.



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