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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 44 - Illicit trade in tobacco [19202/14].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 44 - Illicit trade in tobacco [19202/14]. (30 Apr 2014)

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44. Deputy Dara Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the measures being taken to combat the illicit tobacco trade and the measures being put in place in view of the forthcoming plain packaging for tobacco products to further discourage the illicit tobacco trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19202/14]  

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that combating the illegal tobacco trade is, and will continue to be, a high priority for them. Their work against this illegal activity includes a range of measures designed to identify and target those who are engaged in the supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to seizing the illicit products and prosecuting those responsible. This multi-faceted strategy includes ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources at points of importation and within the country. Interception of illicit tobacco products is achieved through a combination of risk analysis, profiling and intelligence and the screening of cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages. Revenue officers also target the illicit trade at the post-importation level by carrying out intelligence-based operations and random checks at retail outlets, markets and private and commercial premises.

There is extensive cooperation with An Garda Síochána in combating the illicit trade, and the relevant agencies in the State also work closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, through a cross-border group on tobacco enforcement to target the organised crime groups that are responsible for a large proportion of the illegal tobacco market. In addition, cooperation takes place with other revenue administrations and with the European Anti-Fraud office, OLAF, in the ongoing programmes at international level to tackle the illicit trade. Legislative action has been taken over recent years to ensure that the Revenue Commissioners have the requisite powers to respond effectively to the problem of the illegal tobacco trade.

The Finance Act 2012 clarified the legal basis for Revenue officers to open and examine the contents of postal and courier packets that are reasonably believed to contain untaxed excise products. The Finance Act 2013 introduced new offences and forfeiture measures relating to the illicit production of tobacco, including offences of involvement with illicit tobacco production, knowingly dealing in or delivering any illicit tobacco product and keeping materials and equipment for the purposes of illicit production. Provision was made also for the forfeiture of any equipment or materials, including unmanufactured tobacco, used for illicit production. That Act also strengthened the offence provisions relating to the sale or delivery of unstamped tobacco products. The Finance (No. 2) Act 2013 provided that a person suspected of an offence of dealing in, or with, unstamped tobacco products must provide information to a Revenue Officer or a Garda and may be required to present any tobacco product concerned for examination, and makes provision for search by a Revenue Officer or Garda of any bag or other receptacle that he or she reasonably believes to contain tobacco products that are concerned in the offence.  

As well as those changes to primary law Ireland, in accordance with EU Directive 2008/118/EU, introduced a quantitative restriction, with effect from 1 January 2014, on the number of cigarettes that may be brought into the State for personal use by individuals travelling from Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. The Excise Duty on Cigarettes (Quantitative Restrictions) Order 2013 (S.I. No. 553 of 2013) provides that the number of tax-paid cigarettes that may be brought into Ireland for personal use by individuals travelling from those Member States, without payment of further excise duty in Ireland, is restricted to 300. Anyone with cigarettes in excess of that quantity must declare them to a Revenue Officer and pay the appropriate excise duty. This restriction will remain in place until 31 December 2017 or until such time as the particular Member State has achieved the required EU minimum tax levels, whichever is the earlier. I am advised that the Revenue Commissioners are satisfied that the proposed standardised packaging of tobacco products will not damage their work to tackle the illicit tobacco trade. Revenue relies on the tax stamp to identify tax paid tobacco products, and the standardised packaging legislation will accommodate the stamp. The tax stamp contains a range of features designed to minimise the risk of counterfeiting. The Revenue Commissioners will maintain their commitment to acting against all stages of the supply chain for illicit tobacco products and will continue to make every effort to ensure that those involved in the illicit trade are brought to account before the courts for their criminal activities. A new multi-annual strategy for dealing with the problem is being drawn up, and the Revenue Commissioners are consulting with key stakeholders in preparing this document.

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