RIGA - The State Revenue Service has arrested a man attempting to smuggle more than 10 million cigarettes into Latvia from Russia. It was the second major cigarette smuggling bust in less than a week.
The Customs Criminal Board, a division of the SRS, stopped a truck carrying the illegal cigarettes on July 24 after it managed to cross the Grebneva border checkpoint. The truck allegedly contained 10.2 million Jing Ling, EB, Real King Size and LM cigarettes.
Border guard officials said they were not to blame for their inability to catch the smugglers as they crossed into the country because the guards are only able to inspect a small number of randomly chosen vehicles.
"It is done randomly, risking that only 10 percent of cargos are inspected. If each truck was inspected, there would be a line up to Jekabpils," Eriks Zalenieks, head of the Customs Criminal Board, told journalists on July 25.
Nevertheless, an investigation is underway to find out whether any officials can be held responsible for the slip-up. Police have so far only detained the driver, a Latvian citizen, but there are reportedly three other suspects under investigation.
The truck's documents claimed it was carrying insulation materials. It was registered under a new Russian company and was the first time the company had attempted exporting goods.
Officials believe that the cigarettes were bound for Lithuania, where they would then be transported on to Western Europe. Based on the brand names, customs officials believe the illegal cargo was ultimately bound for the U.K.
Finance Minister Atis Slakteris praised the Criminal Customs Board for the haul, saying they have helped protect the European market from an influx of low-quality goods.
The value of the taxes on the cigarettes would have totaled nearly half a million lats (711,435 euros).
The Jing Ling and EB cigarettes had Russian excise labels, while the Real and LM cigarettes were unmarked. The truck also contained the rolling papers, foil and glue needed for the production of cigarettes.
The haul marked the second major cigarette smuggling bust in less than a week. A few days prior to the incident, officials found 9.4 million illegal cigarettes in a Chinese footwear container being brought to a Latvian company through the Riga port.
The two massive busts brought the total number of illegal cigarettes found in the country so far this year to a staggering 30 million.