Britain Busts Europe-Wide Tobacco Smuggling Ring
LONDON (Reuters) - British customs officers said on Wednesday they had broken up a multi-million-pound ring of Europe-wide tobacco smugglers, arresting 11 men and seizing 3.5 million cigarettes.
Further arrests were expected.
``This is not the biggest job we've ever done but it's very important given the degree of criminality, the sophistication of the criminals and their ability to distribute nationwide,'' customs spokesman Ranald MacDonald told Reuters.
``Our job may have well have put an end to a distribution network that has amounted to a 45-million-pound loss to government revenues.''
The operation was carried out on Tuesday -- 70 officers swooped on 18 different premises -- after months of surveillance and in close cooperation with customs in mainland Europe.
``We have liaised with our European colleagues throughout and it's possible there will be arrests on the continent. Certainly we anticipate further arrests in the UK,'' said MacDonald.
Britain has a thriving black market in cigarettes and alcohol, which are taxed heavily by London and sell far cheaper across the Channel.
Cross-Channel ``booze runs'' have become routine as Britons cram their cars with cheap beer, wine and cigarettes at French ports, barely stopping to savor the other delights of France.
The government estimates it will lose 2.5 billion pounds in revenue from illegal tobacco sales this year, most of it smuggled into Britain in huge freight containers.