MEP: France is wrong to shun OLAF in tackling tobacco smuggling

French police arrests a tobacco smuggler in Marseille. [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

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.

Genuine cigarettes smuggling from Algeria gives Brussels another headache

The increasing flow of genuine cigarettes from Algeria into Europe is giving politicians a fresh headache.

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.”

OLAF: Up to France to request help on genuine cigarettes smuggled from Algeria

The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) stands ready to assist member states, such as France, in the fight against illicit tobacco trade with third countries, but it’s up to the national authorities to make a request, OLAF told EURACTIV.com.

“OLAF will endeavour …

Background

Tobacco smuggling: Marseille’s illicit secret

Like most big ports, Marseille has seen its fair share of crime and smuggling. The latest trend, seen almost everywhere in the bustling Mediterranean city, is the sale of cigarettes smuggled from North Africa. In the endless cat-and-mouse game with the police, smugglers seem to be winning, for now.

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