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This week has seen the closing of one of the most extensive operations recently undertaken to crack down on illicit tobacco manufacturing in Slovenia. The operation was essentially a collaboration between the Police and the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia (FURS), the French police authorities and Europol.

An international crime group was dismantled for the illicit production of tobacco products in Slovenia and their distribution across the EU, the specific target being the French market.

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Over 17 tonnes of tobacco in crushed leaves and over 21 tonnes of fine-cut tobacco, alongside cigarette-making machinery and other material for illegal production, were seized in this joint police operation. A total of EUR 6.8 million of damage to the state budget was prevented.

Smuggled from Slovenia to EU, targeting the French market

The final stages of the investigation were part of an earlier extensive police investigation initiated in France in 2020. The French authorities targeted an international crime group involved in the supply of counterfeit cigarettes from Slovenia and Poland for illegal resale in France. The French police found that at least four cigarette deliveries, weighing a total of 30 tonnes, were supplied by members of the criminal group from Slovenia by trucks belonging to Slovenian companies. This information was brought to the attention of the Slovenian police after which cooperation of the Slovenian judicial authorities was sought through a number of European Investigation Orders (EIOs).

With international support, action day ends with several searches of premises in Maribor, Celje and Ljubljana

The District Court in Maribor issued a number of orders authorising covert investigative measures enabling officers of the Criminal Police Division of Maribor Police Directorate to collect relevant evidence. In close cooperation with FURS, the police were able to identify locations of suspected storage and illicit manufacturing of tobacco products.

The District Court in Maribor issued orders authorising the police to search 11 locations in the area of Maribor, Celje and Ljubljana police directorates, and to bring the investigation to a close this week.

The action involved a large number of police officers and crime investigators from several directorates, a number of FURS officers, members of French police and judicial authorities, and a representative of Europol in charge of coordinating activities between multiple agencies.

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Two illicit tobacco production sites were dismantled following the searches of premises.

A total of 38 tonnes of tobacco seized during this action and the November seizure

In the joint investigation against the ring, the Police and FURS seized over 26 tonnes of tobacco on 25 January 2022. In addition to over 17 tonnes of tobacco in crushed leaves and over 9 tonnes of fine-cut tobacco, the authorities also seized 29 million cigarette filters, two machines for fine cutting of tobacco, one machine for crushing tobacco leaves, one cigarette-production machine, 10 tonnes of cigarette boxes, one forklift truck, electronic devices and documentation.

Earlier in the same case, in November 2021, FURS officers seized almost 12 tonnes of fine-cut tobacco.

Tobak 2022 4 fotoFURS

Damage caused by offenders estimated at EUR 6.8 million

If sold on the black market, the cigarettes made from the total of amount of seized tobacco would cause the financial loss of EUR 6.8 million for the state budget. The sale of such an amount of tobacco products would have resulted in EUR 11.6 million of proceeds of crime.

Two members of the crime group arrested

European Arrest Warrants were issued for the arrest of two crime ring members in Slovenia and Croatia. Evidence has been gathered against them for crimes investigated by the French judicial authorities. The investigation also provided grounds for suspicion that the criminals committed the crime of tax evasion. The Maribor criminal police will continue to gather information in this case.

Foto: FURS