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smoke bust 11 tonnes of loose tobacco and 1.6 million cigarettes seized by customs officials

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Customs officers have busted a multi-million pound counterfeit tobacco operation.

A whopping 11 tonnes of loose tobacco and 1.6 million cigarettes have been seized by customs officials in South Armagh.

HM Revenue and Customs officers, working in partnership with the PSNI grabbed the goods at premises in the Camlough and Silverbridge areas.

The cigarettes and tobacco worth an estimated £8.3 million in lost duty and taxes were discovered along with tobacco shredding, cigarette rolling and packaging machinery – part of a suspected illicit tobacco production operation.

Undetected, the machinery is capable of producing more than 390 million cigarettes a year, evading in excess of £160 million in lost duty and taxes.

Cigarette filters capable of producing a further 3.8 million cigarettes were also found on the premises. Investigations into the suspected fraud are ongoing.

“Cheap cigarettes come at a cost as they often fund organised crime and other illegal activity that causes real harm to our communities. The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us,” said HMRC assistant director Steve Tracey.

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‘Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £1.9 billion a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders.

“Since 2000, we have reduced the illicit market in cigarettes by more than half. Between April 2018 and March 2019, more than 1.3 billion illicit cigarettes and more than 146 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco were seized, resulting in 278 successful prosecutions

The HMRC encouraged anyone with information about the illegal sale of tobacco to report it online or call the Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.

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