Combating the international trade in contraband and counterfeit cigarettes has been the focus of a three day international conference hosted by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and French Customs. The conference, which helps to cement operational relationships between the EU Member States and key third countries, concluded today in Marseilles, France.
In 2009, OLAF was notified by the Member States of seizures of 4.7 billion cigarettes, indicating that actual losses of taxes and duties to the EU and Member States as a result of cigarette smuggling are approximately 10 billion a year. The global nature of cigarette smuggling means that international cooperation is essential in tackling the problem. OLAF plays an important role in this respect, coordinating and supporting the work of the Member States and ensuring good working relations with neighbouring countries.
"Criminal gangs trafficking counterfeit and contraband cigarettes are responsible for defrauding European taxpayers out of billions of euros every year. It is vital that we work together to bring them to justice. This conference has reinforced international partnerships and strengthened our fight against fraud," said OLAF's acting Director-General Nicholas Ilett.
The conference was attended by delegates from all 27 Member States, as well as law enforcement agents from Belarus, Croatia, Egypt, Montenegro, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. The World Customs Organization (WCO) and Europol also participated. The main focus of discussions this year was the new trends in smuggling and the challenges faced in different regions of Europe. There were also presentations from four of the worlds leading tobacco manufacturers, Philip Morris International (PMI), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Limited, which have all concluded legally binding cooperation agreements with the Commission and the Member States.
This is the fifteenth year that OLAFs Task Group Cigarettes has organised an international conference to support and stimulate operational relationships between the Member States and other countries so that there can be rapid exchanges of operational information to target smuggling and counterfeiting, which result in substantial losses of revenue for Member States and the European Union.