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BBC Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison:
"Despite record seizures and cross-border co-operation more cigarettes are being smuggled"
 real 56k

Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 21:07 GMT 22:07 UK
Cigarettes earn more for smugglers
Smuggled consignment of cigarettes from China
Smuggled consignment of cigarettes from China
By the BBC's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison

Irish Customs officials have said cross-border cigarette smuggling is now an even more lucrative criminal trade than cannabis trafficking.

To date this year 72m cigarettes have been seized. The haul has increased nine times on what was seized two years ago.

The Irish authorities have said nine gangs from both sides of the Irish border, particularly around Newry in County Down and Dundalk in County Louth in the Republic of Ireland, are involved in the illicit trade.

Most of the cigarettes coming into the Irish Republic are destined for Northern Ireland and Britain.

Customs have said they originate from China, Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Singapore.

'Higher penalties for drugs'

Speaking to the BBC Irish Customs Director General Frank Daly said: "The profits from the cigarettes are as great and probably greater than from cannabis.

 Irish Customs Director General Frank Daly: Illegal profits now higher from cigarettes
Frank Daly: Illegal profits now higher from cigarettes than drugs
"And there is the other factor that has to be taken into account - that cannabis or drug smuggling attracts perhaps a greater public odium than cigarette smuggling.

Certainly the penalties for cannabis and drug smuggling are far greater."

The smugglers can fill a container lorry by buying 10m cigarettes for as little as 25,000.

Once imported the consignment can be re-sold for up to 1.5m.

Cannabis smugglers have to be more careful about sniffer dogs.

They can buy 300 kilos of the drug for 300,000, then tightly pack their cargo to avoid detection, import the drug and then re-sell it for just over 1m.

Real IRA may be linked

It is understood the Irish republican dissident group the Real IRA, which murdered 29 people in the Omagh bomb two years ago in County Tyrone, may also be linked to cigarette smuggling.

However, Mr Daly was reluctant to confirm or deny a paramilitary link to the trade.

"Even if you decide there are paramilitaries involved, you have to then decide if the profits are going to the organisation as such or whether they are going on a personal basis to some of the people involved," he said.

The Irish authorities have said north-south cross-border co-operation against the smugglers is excellent.

But they know that despite this year's record successes in intercepting smugglers, more cigarettes are still getting through.

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See also:

26 Aug 99 | Northern Ireland
Customs declares new war against smugglers
28 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Customs seize cigarettes haul
16 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Customs seize 15m smuggled cigarettes
14 Jun 00 | Health
Tobacco industry under attack
30 Mar 00 | Scotland
Mafia smuggling plan thwarted
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