Cops losing tobacco smuggling battle

Untaxed cigarettes and tobacco are costing the German government an untold amount of money in lost tax revenue each year, and as new fronts in tobacco smuggling open, authorities seem powerless to stem their market penetration.

Cops losing tobacco smuggling battle
Photo: DPA

Although officials and cigarette companies have invested millions of euros to fight the illegal trade, up to 22 billion illegally untaxed cigarettes – 400 million in Berlin alone – were smoked last year, the German Cigarette Association (ODP) and customs authorities told Die Welt newspaper on Tuesday.

Roughly 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked in the country go untaxed although the number skyrockets to 60 percent near the Polish border, according to paper.

Smugglers have become so brazen in recent years that they’re selling their own special cigarette brands imported from countries like Russia or Moldova, none of which can be sold legally.

Among the best known is Jin Ling, which is produced exclusively for smuggling to Western Europe and has become one of the best-selling brands in Germany. A box with ten cigarette cartons goes for €22, giving sellers a more than 1,000 percent profit on boxes that can be bought wholesale for €2, according to Die Welt.

“It’s more lucrative than hashish,” a security investigator for a legitimate German cigarette firm, told the newspaper.

Much smuggled tobacco is of inferior quality and is said to be sometimes infused with poisonous chemicals making them even more toxic than the legitimate stuff, but this does not seem to stop consumers from seeking it out.

The problem appears to be getting more complex as new smoking trends catch on and their devotees look for cheap tobacco. In March, police in North Rhine-Westphalia and colleagues in Sweden broke up an illegal operation, confiscating 620 kilograms of counterfeit water pipe tobacco and arresting nine people.

Among the factors driving tobacco smuggling is the opening of European borders, which makes it much easier to import illegal smokes. Huge Vietnamese gangs have also built up a massive criminal network, which seems almost impossible to slow down. Some observers suggest that rising cigarette taxes may also be driving people to purchase cheaper tobacco from smugglers.

The Local/DAPD/mdm

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.