Large international operation against cigarette smuggling networks

23 June 2011
Press Release
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The Hague, the Netherlands

On 21st and 22nd June 2011, in a case initiated by France, judicial authorities, customs and police officers in 5 countries (Hungary, Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Germany and Italy) ran a joint operation - supported and co-ordinated by Eurojust and Europol - against a large network of counterfeit cigarette smugglers operating from Ukraine to the United Kingdom.

The investigation was started in France by the National Judicial Customs Service (SNDJ) under the supervision of the Rennes organised crime inter-regional court (JIRS) in February 2010. Other national authorities and contact points involved in the case were:

In Hungary: Public prosecution office of Budapest and the National Tax and Customs Authority

In the Czech Republic: Department for economic crime of Police of Olomouc

In the Slovak Republic: judicial and law enforcement authorities

In Germany: Staatsanwaltschaft Kaiserslautern (Public Prosecutor’s Office of Kaiserslautern) and Generalstaatsanwaltschaft Zweibrücken (Supreme Prosecutor‘s Office of Zweibrücken)

In Italy: Guardia di Finanza in Monza.

More than 150 law enforcement officers in total were deployed. 11 officers of the SNDJ had been posted in the different Member States to support national authorities.

The investigation revealed the existence of a structured criminal organisation established in the region of Uzgorod (Ukraine) that shares borders with several European Union Member States. This network operated through front companies in several of the Member States involved, with the help of people of Ukrainian origin established in these States and accomplices carrying out the administrative formalities and paying the sums necessary to establish the companies. On that basis, a purely fictional commercial route was organised, so as to conceal the fraudulent nature of the merchandise transported, using particular compliant carriers. "Transhipments" were carried out in France and well-established transport companies were hired, in order to outsmart checks.

Several European Arrest Warrants were issued against Ukrainian, Slovak, Czech and German nationals suspected of taking an active part in the fraudulent scheme.

Coordinated action began on 21st June noon, following the arrest the evening before of the Ukrainian leader of the network by the Hungarian authorities at the Serbian border. 5 other suspects were arrested and 13 simultaneous house and company searches were carried out in Germany, Italy, Czech Republic and Slovak Republic, resulting in the seizure of a large body of documentary evidence, computers, cell phones and various IT devices.

As soon as the leader’s arrest was known, action was launched in the other countries involved, so as to preserve evidence, and the coordination centre was swiftly set up at Eurojust with a mobile office operated by a Europol analyst, demonstrating the efficient cooperation between Eurojust and Europol. A coordinated multi-agency approach at EU level allowed real-time exchange of information and evidence, coordination between customs, police and judicial authorities in the countries involved, and immediate cross-match analysis of the data collected. The coordination centre was run by the Eurojust French Desk and supported by the Eurojust Case Analysis Unit and a Europol analyst who provided vital analytical support to the operation from an early stage.

Mr Jamin, Assistant to the Eurojust National Member for France, commented: "This operation, carefully prepared, demonstrates our capacity to swiftly adapt to operational constraints and activate coordination tools in urgent situations. I was really impressed by the commitment of all national authorities involved. This marks an important step in a meticulous investigation, which will contribute to tackling a particularly lucrative form of transborder crime."

Mrs Levai, Eurojust National Member for Hungary added: "Simultaneous operations had been decided during a coordination meeting at Eurojust. Hungarian authorities have since then deployed all efforts possible to track the leader of this organised crime group and I’m really satisfied with this positive conclusion".

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