More than 28,000 illicit cigarettes and almost 20 kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco have been seized following searches of 11 shops in the Londonderry area.
A 65-year-old man was arrested as part of today’s operation targeting INLA criminality.
He was detained on suspicion of fraudulent evasion of excise duty in respect of 10,280 illicit cigarettes and 14.45 kilograms of illicit tobacco seized from one of the shops in the Galliagh area of the city.
Other counterfeit goods and mobile phones were also seized during the operation, which was carried out by HMRC officers supported by the PSNI.
Detective Inspector Tom McClure of the PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit said: “INLA in Londonderry use brutality, threats and fear to exert control and behind the scenes are involved in a wide range of criminal money-making ‘rackets’ to line their own pockets. One strand of their criminality is the importation and supply of illicit cigarettes into the North West and these illegal products are then distributed via a network of local shops and suppliers. For this reason we requested assistance from our partners in HMRC for today’s operation.
“I am very concerned that 7 of the 11 shops visited today were found to have illicit cigarettes on their premises, meaning that these illegal products have been found in a total of 17 different shops in the Londonderry and Strabane area since the start of December. Retailers who stock and sell illicit cigarettes to the public should think carefully about the potential implications upon conviction. They and customers who knowingly purchase illicit cigarettes should be aware that they may be indirectly funding INLA terrorism and criminality which brings harm to local communities, for their own selfish gains.
“We are committed to tackling the criminality associated with paramilitarism and today’s seizures follow on from a successful operation back in December when approximately 36,000 illicit cigarettes and 5 kilograms of illicit tobacco were removed from eight shops in Londonderry and two shops in Strabane.
“I know that the communities most affected by the misery inflicted by paramilitaries support our ongoing efforts and I’d like to thank them for their support. I would appeal for anyone with information regarding this type of criminal activity to contact police on 101. Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”
Steve Tracey, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Working together in partnership with other enforcement colleagues we can target the criminal gangs who are stealing from the taxpayer, robbing public services and undermining legitimate, honest traders.”