THESSALONIKI – It’s unstoppable – like Prohibition in the United States in the 1920’s – but Greek police are being relentless in going after cigarette smugglers bringing contraband into the country, this time arresting four people.
They were part of a suspected racket and taken into custody when authorities raided two warehouses in the country’s second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, confisciating 3 million cigarettes, said state-run ERT broadcaster.
The cigarettes were boxed and ready for sale in 152,379 packages, and worth 600,000 euros ($660,036) in unpaid taxes and duties and found more than 3,600 ($3960) in cash and some marijuana as well as a stolen car.
The four suspects will appear before a prosecutor to face charges of racketeering, among others, ERT reported, but no names were given in accordance with privacy laws usually not allowing that.
The haul was small compared to a bust in December, 2021 when customs officials conficated more than 60 million found hidden in six containers at the port of Piraeus, one of Europe’s busiest.
The cargo came from China, said Kathiermini, with Piraeus the final destination. The port is run by the Chinese management company COSCO and has become a major hub in the European Union.
According to the shipping documents, the containers were carrying wooden cutlery while the companies that appeared to be importing them are based in Bulgaria and were just set up, the report said.
Greek authorities discovered 40 million cigarettes in the first four containers that arrived at Piraeus, while two more from the same shipment were unloaded in Trieste, Italy, and were seized in cooperation with the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF. A seventh container was expected at the port.
The packages are under the name Golden, which are traded only on the black market to avoid taxes and sold cheap, smuggled cigarettes sometimes even openly hawked on the streets of Athens in packages or individual butts.
The investigation started after the Coordination Business Center (SEC) received a tip, according to which four containers of smuggled cigarettes had arrived at the port, the paper said.
In May, 2021, thanks to a tip from OLAF, Greek authorities seized a container with 9,650,000 cigarettes at the port as smugglers had tried to disguise the shipment as suitcases and also came from China, headed for Slovakia.
Initial information about the shipment was supplied to OLAF by the Chinese Anti-Smuggling Bureau, the paper said. COSCO is trying to make Piraeus an even more important link to the rest of the EU.
In December, 2020, police said that they had found a haul of 92 million cigarettes, more than 112 kilos (247 pounds) of processed and unprocessed tobacco and some 75 million cigarette pack labels.
Greek police said that they had cracked one of the country’s leading tobacco smuggling organizations, raiding a factory capable of producing more than a billion cigarettes a year.