In what is believed to be the biggest ever haul of contraband cigarettes in the whole of Europe, Greece’s financial crime squad has seized over 18 million packs of smuggled cigarettes in the port of Thessaloniki, authorities said yesterday. At least four companies are suspected of involvement in an international smuggling ring spanning Greece, Cyprus, the Balkans and western Europe that is believed to have handled at least 50 million packs of contraband cigarettes in recent months. The Finance Ministry’s financial crimes squad discovered 18,031,500 packs in warehouses 24 and 26 of the northern Greek harbor’s Free Trade Zone. In a statement yesterday, the ministry named the Isle of Man-registered C.T. Tobacco Ltd. and Greece’s Macotrans Trading Ltd. as the two companies that had stored the consignment. It said another two Cypriot firms were involved, and over 10 international smugglers. The cigarettes are believed to have been exported from Thessaloniki to Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, from where they were smuggled back into Greece and either sold in the domestic market or taken to western Europe. Large recent contraband cigarette hauls in Italy, Germany and the UK are probably linked with the ring. Thessaloniki is a major smuggling crossroads. Some 11 million contraband cigarette packs have been confiscated in the area over the past three years. The ministry statement said the European Commission and the British authorities have been notified and have shown an immediate interest in the case. Meanwhile in Ireland, customs officials yesterday seized over three million smuggled cigarettes in a warehouse in Ennis, County Clare. The cigarettes, worth some $800,000, had been carried to Ireland on a ship from Piraeus.