Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 159 - Tobacco seizures [29350/14].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 159 - Tobacco seizures [29350/14]. (08 Jul 2014)

159. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on the successful Garda operations in terms of the seizures of smuggled tobacco products over the past 12 months. [29350/14]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan): I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, in the period from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014, some 70.6 million cigarettes and 9,931 kilograms of tobacco were seized.

There were 5,902 seizures of cigarettes, and 959 of tobacco, in that period, reflecting Revenue's extensive programme of action against all stages of the supply chain for illicit tobacco products.

Major seizures included:

- 32.3 million cigarettes at Drogheda Port on 24 June 2014,

- 10.4 million cigarettes at Dublin Port on 12 July 2013,

- 10 million cigarettes at Dublin Port on 17 September 2013, and

- 1.17 million cigarettes at Ashbourne, Co. Meath, on 17 July 2013.

I would like to congratulate the Revenue Commissioners on the recent major seizure at Drogheda, which included 4.5 tonnes of water pipe tobacco as well as 32.3 million cigarettes, and is the largest in Europe to date this year. I understand that this intelligence-led operation targeted the criminal activities of an international organised crime group headed up by Irish and UK nationals and based in Europe, and that the seizure represents a significant blow to them. Revenue worked in close cooperation with An Garda Síochána and with law enforcement agencies across several jurisdictions, including Slovenia and Portugal, and the successful outcome of the operation is a tribute to the positive engagement by all the agencies concerned.

The Revenue Commissioners advise also that combating the illegal tobacco trade will continue to be a high priority for them. This work includes a wide 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.

In addition, 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 offence and forfeiture measures relating to the illicit production of tobacco, including offences for 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.

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