Illegal cigarette factory busted

  • 2000-11-23
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA – Late night Nov. 20, officials from the Latvian Smuggling Prevention Center stumbled upon a factory producing illegal cigarettes. They confiscated some four tons of tobacco and more than 300,000 cigarettes. The underground cigarette factory was housed in what used to be a meat-packaging plant located in a forest near Ikskile, a small town not far from Riga.

The factory was uncovered due to cooperation between the center, the Latvian security police and Ogre district police department. On the site, police officers detained a man who claimed to know nothing about any illegal cigarette production. Andris Kraujins, director for Philip Morris Latvia, wishes to congratulate the state for doing a good job.

"Philip Morris supports the government in fighting contraband and particulary counterfeit cigarettes," Kraujins said.

Vladimir Camans, managing director for House of Prince Riga, shared Kraujins optimism saying of course it's a positive move on the state's behalf closing down the illegal factory.

"The state loses some $10 million every year on contraband and counterfeit cigarettes," Camans said. "This money could be spent on other things."

According to Camans there is, however, another interesting question which needs to be answered.

"How did they [representatives of the illegal cigarette factory] import all their materials?" Camans would like to know. "It's impossible to grow tobacco in Latvia because of the climate, and as I understood there was a lot of it in the factory, and nobody produces cigarette paper in Latvia. I think we have a problem at our customs."

The four tons of tobacco found on the site is on average two days of cigarette production. LSPC representatives believe the factory had been in operations for quite some time judging by the amount of tobacco dust.

The Latvian daily newspaper Diena reported the tobacco had most likely been smuggled into Latvia from Poland, but the cigarette packs were printed in Hungary, and the cigarette paper was made in Austria.

LSPC also reported they found Prince cigarettes with Lithuanian excise tax stickers and some unmarked packs of Marlboro cigarettes.

Philip Morris Latvia, with the famous Marlboro cigarette as flagship, does not produce a single cigarette in Latvia. The company has, for some years, been producing cigarettes in the Lithuanian coastal city of Klaipeda.

Kraujins spoke of how one can find out whether one is smoking genuine cigarettes or not. "Just peel off the excise tax sticker from the pack," he said. "If it comes off easily, as it should, then the cigarettes are genuine, but if it doesn't, then most likely, they are counterfeit."

Helmuts Skuja, a tight-lipped investigative officer at LSPC not related to this case, said he could give very little information since there was currently an on-going investigation on the matter.

"We found 75 boxes of cut tobacco, 308,000 cigarettes and 755 rolls of cigarette paper," Skuja said.

When asked where the tobacco supply for the factory could have come from, Skuja said he was not allowed to give any personal views on the case. However, he did not rule out the possibility that it had been smuggled into the country.