The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) arrested three individuals suspected of being part of a criminal organisation involved in smuggling tobacco into Italy and France, during an operation carried out with the help of the Genoa Provincial Command of the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza).
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The arrest of another suspected member of the criminal group is still underway, with the cooperation of the National Fugitive Search Brigade (BNRF) in France.
International investigations are underway for the arrest of two other subjects.
The investigation started with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Genoa, in September 2020. The EPPO took over the case in December 2021.
The suspects are accused of forming a criminal organisation for the purpose of importing massive quantities of contraband cigarettes from Tunisia to Italy, to be sold on the Italian and French black markets.
According to the investigation, a Tunisian company managed by the group shipped containers of food goods from the North African country into Italy, by simulating commercial operations with Italian companies controlled by the members of the organisation. In each shipment, up to 800 kg of cigarettes were concealed inside the containers.
Once the cargo arrived in Italy, other members of the organisation took charge of customs clearance operations, using falsified documents to mislead customs officials.
The goods were then stored in a warehouse in Northern Italy. Some of the smuggled cigarettes were sent to the French Riviera, with the support of a suspect living in Nice.
In some cases, the organisation also shipped counterfeit cigarettes into Italy.
In previous seizures executed during this investigation, 798 kg of cigarettes – of which 422 kg were counterfeit – were found inside a container carrying chamia (traditional Tunisian sweets) and harissa (spicy paste), during a control at the port of Genoa, in August 2020.
A further seizure executed by the Guardia di Finanza at the port of Livorno, in October 2020, led to the apprehension of 603 kg of cigarettes hidden among boxes of traditional Tunisian sweets.
The damages to the national and EU budgets are estimated at a minimum of €450 000, but the total could be much higher, given the numerous illicit shipments of tobacco perpetrated over time by the criminal organisation. ■