Police sweep near Archaeological Museum targets bootleg cigarette trade

A massive police crackdown on bootleg cigarette vendors in the area around the National Archaeological Museum in central Athens on Thursday led to 26 undocumented immigrants, chiefly of Asian origin, being detained and large quantities of illicit goods being confiscated.

Dozens of officers swooped on illegal traders in the streets around the museum early on Thursday as members of the motorcycle-riding DIAS squad and the riot police stood guard on street corners to avoid possible reactions by leftists or anarchists who frequent the broader Exarchia district. Most of the arrests were made on and around busy Stournari Street, where vendors tend to congregate, flouting their wares to passers-by.

The crackdown came a day after unidentified immigrants believed to be bootleg cigarette vendors attacked three policemen in Exarchia. The officers were hospitalized with minor injuries.

The trade in black-market cigarettes – and other illegal goods – has flourished in the area over the past two years, along with drug dealing and use. After succeeding in curbing the drug trade in a bid to increase public safety and boost tourism, police are now turning their attention to the sale of bootleg cigarettes, which are growing in popularity among cash-strapped Greeks but deprive the debt-ridden state of millions of euros in tax revenue.