With the support of Europol’s European Financial Economic Crime Centre (EFECC), a massive illegal cigarette factory has been raided and shut down this week by Belgian Customs (Algemene Administratie van Douane en Accijnzen / Administration Générale des Douanes et Accises). The illegal factory was located in a former pet hotel in Arlon, Belgium.
Fourteen workers mainly from Eastern Europe were arrested, and the Belgian authorities seized the complete cigarette manufacturing machinery. Some four tonnes of tobacco and two million counterfeit cigarettes were also seized at the premises in Arlon. An additional 40 million counterfeit cigarettes presumably manufactured at the illegal factory in Arlon were seized in trailers in an industrial area in Duffel, Belgium. These cigarettes were most likely destined for the black market in France and the United Kingdom. The tax loss in Belgium alone is estimated at EUR 20 million.
The action on 15 March was the result of intensive international cooperation via Europol. French Customs (Douane) were also involved in the investigation and seized over 25 tonnes of counterfeit cigarettes and 16 tonnes of tobacco belonging to the same organised crime group in the city of La Longueville.
The organised crime group under investigation is involved in the large-scale production and distribution of counterfeit cigarettes. A number of investigations are ongoing against them in several European countries.
Europol’s EFECC supported the investigation by providing its secure communication platform and facilitating international cooperation between Belgium and France ,running cross-checks and providing analytical support and operational expertise. One of its experts was deployed to Arlon to assist the Belgian authorities with the action day. Excise fraud is currently an EU law enforcement priority. Strategic and operational plans have been developed under the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats (EMPACT) Excise Fraud Project. Under this umbrella, a total of 24 countries led by Belgium are working together on countering the illicit production of cigarettes in the European Union.