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Tobacco: Smuggling

Question for HM Treasury

UIN 13783, tabled on 28 October 2015

To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, what steps HM Revenue and Customs are taking to stop tobacco smuggling in Northern Ireland.

Answered on

5 November 2015

Tobacco fraud is a highly organised global crime which costs the UK £2.1 billion a year in lost taxes. Cross border collaboration is an essential part of HMRC’s tobacco anti-fraud strategy which has resulted in significant reductions in the illicit trade. The strategy is kept under regular review as the challenges posed by the cross-border illicit trade in tobacco evolve. The joint HMRC and UK Border Force strategy for tackling illicit tobacco has been refreshed and was published on 24 March 2015. It is available via the following link:

The strategy sets out how HMRC are working with other enforcement agencies in the UK and overseas to target, catch and punish those involved. It also includes the establishment of a cross-government ministerial group to oversee future evolution of the anti-illicit tobacco strategy. The strategy builds on the considerable success made in reducing the UK illicit cigarette market from 22% in 2000 to 10% in 2014/15, and from 61% to 35% for hand-rolling tobacco over the same period.

In Northern Ireland there is a well-established Cross-border Fraud Enforcement Group covering tobacco fraud. The aim of the group is for law enforcement partners to share intelligence and work collaboratively, harnessing all available resources to tackle the illicit trade across the border. This multi-agency tobacco group is chaired by HMRC with representation from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the National Crime Agency (formerly SOCA), the Revenue Commissioners and the Criminal Assets Bureau.

This is a highly effective enforcement group which is producing significant results. In the last year (2014/15) joint cross border tobacco operations have led to seizures of 38 million cigarettes, 11 tonnes of raw tobacco, 4.5 tonnes of shisha tobacco, a tobacco processing machine, 12 arrests and significant amounts of cash.

More recently, in the Summer Budget 2015, the Government announced measures that will increase by 50% HMRC’s capacity to investigate and prosecute Organised Crime Groups dealing in illicit tobacco. They will also expand HMRC’s intelligence network, strengthening activity in high risk areas overseas, on the near continent and in the UK.

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