Raids on illegal cigarette factories across Central Europe have resulted in further success for law enforcement authorities. In the past month, a raid in Hungary found 6 million cigarettes and enough tobacco to produce 21 million cigarettes, while Slovakian customs officials reported the largest single raid operation ever in Central Europe.
Earlier this month, the Hungarian raid involved the country’s National Tax and Customs Administration (NTCA) and uncovered an illicit cigarette factory in Budapest that had been built into a rented warehouse. Officials identified key suspected members of the criminal group behind the operation, arresting 20 factory employees and the group’s alleged ringleaders.
In October, 80 customs officials at the criminal office of the financial administration of the Slovak Republic carried out a raid in a warehouse in Vajnory and in the village of Veľké Kostoľany, where they secured three production lines each worth 4 to 5 million euros. Officials also detained a truck at the Hungary-Slovakia border crossing in Rajka that was heading to Romania with tobacco for the production of illegal cigarettes.
Both raids showed the level of sophistication and harsh conditions in Europe’s illicit tobacco network. The Budapest warehouse had been completely rebuilt to cater to the network’s illegal activities, with extensive renovations and separate stations for tobacco cutting, fermenting, filling and packing. Employees were forced to live and work in the factory, unable to leave the building as the soundproof, purpose-built rooms were locked by the ringleaders.
In total, the Slovakian raids resulted in the detainment of 47 people and revealed the international scope of Europe’s criminal gangs. Suspects included individuals from Moldova, Ukraine and Romania—the financial administration highlighted the fact that there were no Slovaks among the detainees.
Both raids were supported by information sharing from Europe’s national and international customs officials. Europol announced in its press release that it had “provided the Hungarian authorities with the necessary analytical support to detect the relevant international links and organized an operational meeting to set out the investigation’s strategy.”
Lenka Wittenbergerová, president of the financial administration of the Slovak Republic, said: “In addition to this latest case, we have prevented more than 30 million illegally produced cigarettes, 50 tons of tobacco or thousands of cigars from entering the European market this year, and we have also disposed of three other illegal factories.”
For more information on the raids, follow the links below:
Written by STOP: ILLEGAL