Greece a hub for smuggled smokes

An Italian man who attempted to smuggle 42,000 cigarettes out of the country has been arrested, authorities said yesterday, as experts emphasized that the case was just a minor incident in an illicit trade that is flourishing in Greece. Members of the Economy and Finance Ministry’s Special Inspections Service (YPEE) arrested the suspect, who was not named, after he and an accomplice, who remains at large, attempted to transport via a courier company more than 2,100 packets of cigarettes that were hidden in items of furniture. YPEE sources said that the transfer of contraband cigarettes through Greece is rife and yesterday’s incident is hardly worth serious attention. In 2008, for instance, some 215 million smuggled cigarettes were confiscated in the country, up from 149 million the previous year. It is estimated that 8 percent of cigarettes purchased in Greece are contraband. Whereas a normal pack of smokes would cost about 3 euros, one that has been smuggled into the country will be sold for about 2. In some cases, the cigarettes are made from inferior contents and can be even more damaging to smokers’ health. Contraband cigarettes usually reach Greece from China via Dubai or Egypt and are hidden among other merchandise in shipping containers. Another popular route is via Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. Experts say that ships leave there headed for Montenegro but often unload cigarettes at ports in the Ionian or on Greece’s western coast. YPEE officials said that since on paper these shipments are perfectly legal, the vessels cannot be stopped and searched at sea. Sometimes cigarettes manufactured in Greece are bought tax-free, loaded onto foreign vessels and then unloaded at another Greek port and sold, illegally, here.