More than 19 million cigarettes were seized during a joint customs operation (JCO) coordinated by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the Estonian Customs Administration, involving 14 European Union member states, most of them Eastern European, FRONTEX and EUROPOL. A secure communication system was used to connect all participants in real time – a key factor for the success of the operation.
OLAF announced that the operation targeted the smuggling of tobacco products transported by road and rail cargo into the EU territory from third countries.
OLAF coordinated the operation by providing Member States access to VOCU (Virtual Operation Coordination Unit) – a secure communication system facilitating live intelligence exchange on consignments. This timely transfer of information plays a major role in apprehending smugglers.
One of the largest seizures in the operation – of several million cigarettes – was made in June 2017 by the Latvian Customs Authority. In this case, a vehicle arrived from Belarus at the Latvian border crossing point and was selected for inspection. The vehicle was equipped with an illegal mechanism which allowed it to switch license plates automatically, at the push of a button. The smugglers hoped that new tags would mean escaping controls – unfortunately for them, the officers caught on to their tricks and also passed the information along to other Member States.
This demonstrates that while smugglers constantly try to design and implement new fraudulent methods in order to skip customs controls, cross-European cooperation is the most efficient way for EU authorities to stay ahead of the curve.
JCO MAGNUM II followed previous regional operation MAGNUM I, coordinated by Estonian Customs and OLAF, which also targeted the smuggling of tobacco products and resulted in the seizure of 11 million cigarettes.