A total of 5 suspects have been arrested and over 7.5 million suspected illicit cigarettes seized during an operation led by the Slovenian National Police (Policija) with the active support of Europol.
Four of these arrests were carried out on 16 October in the Slovenian municipality of Celje. The arrested individuals are aged between 25 and 51 years old. Two vehicles worth in excess of €100 000 were also seized at the home of one of the suspects. One of the criminal leaders was also arrested in Lithuania earlier in June.
This criminal group, in cooperation with accomplices from Lithuania, organised the smuggling of cigarettes from the Russian Federation into the territory of the European Union through means of forged documents which concealed the real origin of the goods. The tobacco products were mostly transported by cargo ships to ports in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the cargo was loaded onto Slovenian lorries and then brought to Slovenia. The cigarettes were there hidden in other legal cargoes and taken to their final destination – the United Kingdom.
During the investigation which began in September 2019, some major seizures were made, including 1.49 million cigarettes at the border crossing between Ukraine and Hungary (March 2019), as well as 4.35 million cigarettes in two separate seizures in Dover, UK (June 2020).
The value of the seized tobacco products on the illegal market in the United Kingdom is believed to be in the region of €6 million.
Europol’s Analysis Project SMOKE supported this case by facilitating the exchange of information between the different countries involved and by analysing the operational data to identify the main targets. The investigation is still ongoing to try to find potential links to other European countries.