Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Drug smugglers turn to drink
Smuggling costs the Treasury £1bn a year
Drug traffickers are increasingly smuggling other goods - like tobacco and alcohol, according to customs investigators.
They believe the scale of the problem is so great it could undermine legitimate businesses and threaten the UK economy.
Sometimes duty-free goods which should be exported do not even leave the country, and are sold on the black market.
The higher duty charged in Britain than in neighbouring countries is also said to encourage opportunist smugglers.
In response Customs have announced a Christmas crackdown on shops, pubs and clubs selling smuggled goods.
Operation Mistletoe will target retailers throughout the UK who cost the Treasury an estimated £1bn a year in lost revenue.
Diana Barrett, head of anti-smuggling operations, said: "It is unfair to honest retailers and is costing the taxpayer millions.
"Smugglers and fraudsters will find that not only may their goods be seized immediately, but we will be using all options available to prosecute or revoke licences."
The operation comes after the government's Comprehensive Spending Review recommended that Customs should receive an extra £35m funding over three years to tackle smuggling.
Customs say they have been more successful tackling drugs dealers - with the announcement that they broke up or disrupted 131 gangs last year.
A total of £35.56m worth of drugs was seized. Of these, 37% were Class A drugs, compared to 9% in the previous year.
Spokesman Bob Gaiger said: "Some smuggling organisations favour different types of drugs and employ different methods.
"We have taken out smugglers on the high seas, and that must send out a message to organisations that they are no longer safe off the coast of Spain," he said.
The new measures included:
As a result of the financial review, Customs was set a target of an £80m increase in the revenue value of detected alcohol and tobacco fraud over the next three years.
In 1997, Customs seized smuggled goods with a revenue value of £76m.
Crackdown on taxes
Mike Ripley, a spokesman for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, welcomed the crackdown.
"It is estimated that we have at least 1.5m pints of beer crossing the Channel every day. Customs estimate that 70% of that will be sold on.
"It has got to be stopped and now is the time, October and November is when smugglers start stocking up for Christmas.
"But the real answer to this problem rests with the government which insists on taxes on alcohol which are way out of line with our European neighbours.