December 9 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
One of the world’s biggest tobacco companies has claimed a third of all cigarettes sold in Ipswich are illegal.
Phillip Morris International said the burgeoning black market now accounts for 33% of cigarette sales in the town compared to just over 25% during the same period in the previous year.
The company believes its figures are supported by a test purchasing operation carried out in Ipswich by a former Scotland Yard detective.
Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly said he was easily able to buy counterfeit, smuggled or Illicit White cigarettes - which are brands manufactured by criminal gangs - from around a dozen stores.
In addition to the damage done to legitimate businesses, the contents of many of the packs can potentially be extremely hazardous.
Mr O’Reilly, who was a police officer for 32 years, said: “Historically, Ipswich is a place where this has been happening. I found it was open and rife among some of the unscrupulous retailers. In many cases you don’t always know what’s in these things.
“We bought Illicit Whites for £3.50 a packet, some were even cheaper and were made in Belarus for £2.75.
“We found one shop were we could see the shopkeeper press a button under the shelf which appeared to unlock a concealed area.
“In another we were directed to a counter where cigarettes were retrieved from the back. It was done quite openly.
“We made a fairly large number of purchases and in more than one case we were shown a selection of packets with a number of brands to choose from.
“It’s a widespread problem now. Certainly within Ipswich it’s a significant problem.
“It destroys law-abiding businesses. Corner shops are closing because of the illegal trade. It is driving legitimate businesses out.
“Buying these feeds organised crime. Large quantities are smuggled in by organised crime groups who use them to fund other criminal enterprises.”
A survey by MSIntelligence claims the problem in Ipswich is higher than the national average, rising from 26.7% in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 33.6% in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Last month smuggler Baryan Ahmed Mohamed, 50, of London, was jailed for 21 months at Ipswich Crown Court after attempting to smuggle more than 350,000 cigarettes through Felixstowe.
HM Customs and Revenue, and Suffolk trading standards officers regularly carry out operations against black marketeers and have also warned of the health dangers in buying illegal cigarettes.
Anyone with information about smuggling should telephone HMRC’s hotline on 0800 595000