Vienna, 20.04.2017 Customs investigators arrest smugglers of more than 2.5 million cigarettes

Investors strike major blow against international cigarette smuggling – smuggling and trafficking in illicit tobacco products are no trivial offences; 7 arrests, 4 on remand 

The customs investigations service of the Klagenfurt Villach customs office struck a major blow against an internationally operating ring of cigarette smugglers just before Easter this year. In the course of a customs check which was a part of the Austrian Customs’ investigations of an internationally organised ring of smugglers, officials seized two vehicles and more than 300 cartons of smuggled cigarettes.

Operating as a full-scale commercial enterprise, the criminal rings used spectacular camouflage and a particularly sophisticated method of concealment to ship smuggled goods.

At great effort, the cigarettes were concealed in cavities within railway cars in Belgrad (Serbia) that took advantage of the way the railway cars were designed. Upon arrival in Villach, these cavities were extended further by additional perpetrators, who were disguised as railway employees. Subsequently, the smuggled cigarettes were transported onwards to Vienna, Italy and Slovenia.

The suspected ringleader, a 54-year-old Serbian, and two Romanian accomplices were arrested by customs officials in a café in the city centre of Villach, with the assistance of the Villach City Police Brigade. One of the two Romanians had already been wanted by police since 2009 due to suspected handling of untaxed goods.

The sting was preceded by several months of intensive investigations and surveillance operations. The customs investigation service’s further findings subsequently led to one further arrest of a Macedonian citizen living in Kärnten, who is strongly suspected of having overseen the works to remove the smuggled cigarettes at Villach central station.

Since 2014, customs officials in Kärnten have already seized 1,554 cartons of cigarettes (305,350 individual cigarettes) and confiscated six vehicles in connection with this case. Seven individuals were arrested, of whom four perpetrators are currently being held on remand. According to current information of investigators, the main ringleaders can be charged with having smuggled at least 13,400 cartons – more than 2.5 million individual cigarettes – to Austria since 2014. This means that the Republic of Austria has suffered tax losses of at least EUR 500,000.00. 

The perpetrators now risk mandatory custodial sentences of up to five years and value confiscation fines of not less than € 475,000 for cigarettes that are no longer recoverable and presumably have already been consumed.

“This operation represents a major success on the part of the Kärnten customs agents in striking a blow against international cigarette smuggling!”, Rudolf Sablatnik, the chief investigator of the Kärnten customs investigative service stated as the authorities celebrated their success. The chief of the Klagenfurt Villach customs office, Mr Heinz Isopp, MA, was likewise proud of his team: “Smuggling and trading in untaxed tobacco goods are no minor offences! Our agents are doing indispensable work each day in the fight against cigarette smuggling – in the interests of Austrian taxpayers and the Austrian economy!”

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