Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Polish police arrest 21 in anti-smuggling operation

Investigators have arrested 21 suspects in raids against a cigarette-smuggling operation between Ukraine and Italy, thought to have generated millions of dollars, police said Tuesday.

The smuggling gang, which moved their cargoes through several European countries, had defrauded the EU authorities of at least eight million zloty (1.75 million euros, 2.46 million dollars), said police.

The gang was based in both Poland and Italy and had been active from January 2006, said a statement from the Lublin provincial police headquarters, eastern Poland.

They had smuggled at least 53 sizable shipments of contraband cigarettes between the two countries, via Romania, Austria, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia.

The suspects, aged between 29 and 57, face charges related to participation in organised crime, tax fraud and money laundering punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Three of the suspects are women.

In May, Polish police dismantled the biggest black market cigarette factory ever found in Poland, seizing 8.5 million cigarettes and 22 tonnes of tobacco.

Six Poles and six Ukrainians were detained. The cigarettes had been destined for western European countries, said police.