Ireland - police force says gangs making €3m a week from illegal cigarette sales..

August 30, 2010 - Tobacco smuggling (illicit, contraband,. black market, illegal): CRIME GANGS making €3 million (3.8 million USD) a week from selling smuggled cigarettes are using children as young as 12 as “runners” to hold their cash for them at open-air markets where the cigarettes are openly for sale, according to the Garda (police force of the Republic of Ireland) and the tobacco industry. (Ireland - highest tobacco prices in the EU..)

The children can collect hundreds of euros in a few hours for their boss – who in turn pays them cash. Gardaí acknowledge this is because under the law they are unlikely to be brought before the courts if they are arrested. Gardaí also know dissident republicans use cigarette smuggling to fund their activities.

The tobacco industry estimates €700 million (887 million USD) will be lost to the exchequer this year alone due to the black market. It says the legislation has to change because even when an adult is caught, the penalties are “paltry compared to the vast profits they can make”.

Directly related news brief: Ireland - time for major effort to crackdown on tobacco smuggling..

Cigarettes are sold at the open-air market in Drogheda town and on any Saturday morning, up to a dozen children can be found working as “runners” for these gangs. They are selling a pack of 20 for €4 – less than half that of legitimately sold cigarettes. “On one particular Saturday morning in Drogheda, there were three siblings arrested for selling cigarettes and they ranged in age from 12 to 15,” said one garda. He said they were given €50 (63.4 USD) for the mornings work by their boss. “He has them selling 200 cigarettes for €40 (50.7 USD) and one sale like that will cover his ‘staff’ costs for the day,” the garda added.

“This is pure criminality and he knows that the penalties for the kids are simply a caution under the juvenile liaison scheme,” the garda added. Under the scheme, young offenders get formal warnings from a senior garda, but it can be some time before their offending gets to the stage that they are brought before the District Court. The Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee has called for a change in legislation so there are effective deterrents.

“A person fined under the Casual Trading Act will only be fined a maximum of €63 for a first offence and up to €1,270 for a third office. These fines are paltry compared to the vast profits that can be made,” its spokesman said. (Ireland - modest penalty for cigarette smuggling..)

“We know that the gangs sometimes use children as sellers to avoid prosecution. The Casual Trading Act must be amended to prohibit the selling of cigarettes on the street full stop and the deterrent should be adequate to the crime. It should also be an offence to use children to sell tobacco on the streets,” he added.

The committee said its private investigators found most activity at Drogheda and Balbriggan markets. A spokesman for the Revenue, which plays a role in enforcing legislation, said: “Revenue is concerned by the level of trade in illicit tobacco including retail sales at markets.”

He said in the “Tobacco Blitz” campaign it operated last month, it carried out 43 checks at 18 of the State’s main markets and 12 seizures accounting for more than 37,000 cigarettes were made.

“We need a co-ordinated strategy to reclaim the revenues,” the Revenue spokesman added. “The Department of Finance is very concerned due to the hundreds of millions which are lost to the State, it is incredulous that the Department of Health have stated they have no role to play.”

Reference: Garda says gangs making €3m a week from illegal cigarette sales, ELAINE KEOGH,, 8/27/2010.

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