France and other countries that need help tackling the rising illicit tobacco trade should ask for assistance from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), according to Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský.
Zdechovský, a European People’s Party (EPP) MEP in the Budgetary Control Committee, asked the European Commission if OLAF is supporting France in investigating illicit trade routes from Algeria.
To date, France has not requested OLAF’s assistance, the EU executive responded.
“This is very sad and I hope France and even other member states will now ask for help because OLAF’s assistance could be very useful for them,” Zdechovský commented.
According to KPMG’s annual study ‘Project Sun’, there has been a rise of genuine products, illegally smuggled, into France, especially from Algeria.
In 2017, France was the largest illicit cigarettes market accounting for 7.61 billion units, though it registered a large 15% drop in the number of counterfeit and contraband cigarettes.
However, initial survey results in 2018 have indicated a reversal of the 2017 reduction trend.
The illicit flow from outside the EU and more specifically from Algeria is still very high, reaching 2.44 billion cigarettes in the illicit market.
The Commission told Zdechovský that while combating the illicit trade is principally a matter for the French authorities, “the EU’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) could be advantageous”.
“In complex cross-border cases, in particular, OLAF can bring significant added value by helping coordinate anti-smuggling operations carried out by law-enforcement agencies across Europe,” the Commission added.
A big threat for the EU
Zdechovský told EURACTIV that the French authorities cannot face the situation alone.
“This is why the illegal trade is so successful. We need more effective cooperation between OLAF, Europol and Eurojust to stop these people operating all over Europe,” he added.
He noted that these cigarettes are sold on France’s black market and probably in other countries. “Unfortunately, there is no action plan on behalf of Europol to stop this illicit trade.”
“Illegal cigarettes trade may be a very big threat for the EU. As we can see in the study, Illegal cigarette flow to the EU continues to flourish and we can expect its spread across Europe. Especially from Algeria, which is the biggest producer of cigarettes, there are much more cigarettes every year,” he concluded.
OLAF recently told EURACTIV that it would endeavour to facilitate any request for assistance from a member state and has regularly assisted them in dealings with third countries.
“However, this is something principally for the French authorities to consider.”