Over $1 million worth of contraband confiscated

  • 2000-05-11
  • Valters Medenis
RIGA - The Latvian Economic Police Bureau has confiscated $1,685,379 worth of illegal contraband this year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The ministry is very pleased with the amount of contraband confiscated, Krists Leiskalns, spokesman, said.

"At the beginning of March, the ministry started actively combating contraband," he said. "Cigarette distributors are pleased with the amount of tobacco confiscated by EPB officers."

Alcohol is by far the most confiscated contraband. Rita Verenkova, spokeswoman for Latvijas Balzams, said that there needs to be more done if Latvia is to control and stop the large amounts of illegal alcohol on the market.

"Latvijas Balzams loses 30 percent of annual revenue through contraband drinks. It is a very serious problem and contraband alcohol has a very high place in the market," said Verenkova.

EPB officers confiscated 118,957 liters of non-certified alcohol worth $1,572,650 and 128,477 packs of cigarettes worth $65,327.

Iveta Leikuma, spokeswoman from Phillip Morris, is pleased the Ministry of Internal Affairs is taking the problem of illegal contraband seriously.

"We have written to the ministry and congratulated them on their initiative of attacking the illegal contraband market. Still more could be done to protect legal distributors of cigarettes," said Leikuma. "Mechanisms need to be introduced to keep combating the problem."

The number of cigarettes sold legally has doubled this year, and the ministry is slowly winning the war against contraband goods, said Leiskalns.

Although cigarette distributors appreciate the active measures by the EPB, Verenkova said more needs to be done to eradicate the illegal retail of alcohol.

"The EPB needs to pay more attention at borders to protect the Latvian alcohol market and more market surveillance measures need to be carried out," said Verenkova. "The government is continually raising taxes on alcohol, when this occurs the amount of contraband in the market increases.

The EPB has also taken measures to crack down on the illegal sales of compact discs, audio cassettes and video cassettes. This retail of illegal merchandise happens mainly at the markets. At this stage the Ministry of Internal Affairs does not see it as necessary to do raids at the Riga Central Market.

Another problem the ministry wants to deal with is the actual work of the EPB. Mareks Seglins will be monitoring the performance of the EPB to compare the amounts of contraband confiscated by them and the number of criminal cases opened against the smugglers.

This action will give the Ministry of Internal Affairs a clear indication if EPB officers have been working for Latvia's interests or for personal gain. These measures have been in affect since March 28, after the EPB received reprimands from Seglins about possible illegal goings on at the EPB.