By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Customs officers who last week made the biggest-ever haul of smuggled cigarettes in Dublin port — 14 million of them worth about £2.1 million — believe that most of the consignment was destined for the British market.
The cigarettes, which came from China, were concealed in two 40 containers and were described in the customs manifest as audio cassettes.
"This brings to 34 million the number of cigarettes seized this year, which is breaking all records so far," Jim Grant of the Customs Investigation Bureau said.
The cigarettes were packed as a leading brand, but customs officials believe they were bogus. "They look the real thing, but they are not very good quality," Grant said.
A crackdown on street sellers in cities throughout the country and regulations requiring special excise stamps on legitimate packs of cigarettes have hit what had become a highly lucrative criminal business.
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Many crime barons had abandoned the more high-risk illicit drug smuggling to concentrate on the high-profit, low-risk contraband cigarette trade.
"Smuggled cigarettes are now very difficult to dispose of on the Irish market," Grant said. "We would suspect that most of these were destined to the UK. They could be disposed of in markets around in the country or in dispensing machines."
The biggest-ever seizure of cigarettes was made in Rosslare six years ago when customs officers seized a consignment of 20 million.
Cigarette smuggling into Britain has mushroomed in recent years. Customs in the UK believe that more than one in eight cigarettes and two out of every three packets of roll-your-own tobacco being sold there are smuggled.