One of the largest illegal cigarette factories ever uncovered in the Netherlands has been taken offline by law enforcement, with 13 arrests.
The Europol-supported operation – led by the investigation service of the Dutch tax authorities or FIOD – concentrated on an illegal tobacco factory in West-Betuwe, south of Utrecht. Along with the 13 arrests, 3.6m cigarettes and 32 tonnes of tobacco were seized along with packaging material, cigarette paper, filters and glue.
The tax loss prevented to the Dutch state revenue for the illegal production is estimated at €6m, according to Europol, and the Dutch authorities have estimated that the machinery could potentially produce 1m cigarettes a day.
The enforcement action comes just a few weeks after an illegal tobacco factory capable of making 10m cigarettes per week was raided in the German city of Kranenburg, revealing once again the extent of illicit cigarette production within the EU.
A recent study by KPMG found that imports of illicit cigarettes from non-EU countries such as Ukraine and Belarus declined in 2019, with law enforcement reports suggesting there are “increasing volumes from illegal factories within the EU.”
The latest raid was somewhat unusual however in that the entire production cycle took place in one factory, whereas generally production is dispersed across multiple facilities so criminals can spread the risk.
“The production is believed to have been destined for the black market in countries where the retail price of cigarettes is high,” says Europol. “The factory is presumed to have produced 18m illegal cigarettes seized abroad in recent months.”
Illicit cigarettes typically contain even higher levels of toxic ingredients such as tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide than genuine brand-name products.
They also pose a greater fire risk as they do not include designs that ensure that a lit cigarette will self-extinguish if not actively smoked.