EU calls for crackdown on smuggling
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 19:47
The EU has urged Spain and Gibraltar to crack down on tobacco smuggling across the border between the two countries, citing concerns about the possible involvement of organised crime. At the end of a one-year investigation, the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) said in a statement that it had "raised a number of concerns" to UK and Spanish officials regarding its investigation into the increase of cigarette smuggling across the frontier. Olaf noted "a significant increase in the size of the Gibraltar market for cigarettes over the past four years" and that "the concerns include indications of the involvement of organised crime". The investigation was sparked by a complaint from Spanish authorities to the EU that between 2006 and 2011, the amount of tobacco brought into Gibraltar had nearly tripled. According to Spanish figures, 117 million packs were brought in in 2013 - a figure excessive for the 30,000 or so inhabitants of Gibraltar. "Every resident of Gibraltar, including children who are nursing, would have to smoke nine packs of cigarettes each day," one government source told El País newspaper. The Spanish government has claimed that at least a third of the packs are smuggled into Spain. Costing around €26 a carton, tobacco prices in Gibraltar are much cheaper than in Spain, where the cost is between €40 to €44.
Noting that its only role is to carry out administrative investigations, Olaf called on Spain and Gibraltar, via the UK Representation to the EU, to "initiate judicial proceedings" related to the concerns raised in the report. The Spanish authorities have welcomed the Olaf findings. "Spain's only goal is to ensure that international and EU laws are followed," Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo told reporters on Sunday. The National Court's Prosecutor's Office has announced that it will open an investigation into the matter in the coming weeks.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The Olaf report raises concerns about cigarette smuggling over the frontier, an illicit market in southern Spain, and the involvement of organised crime. Following its most recent visit to the Gibraltar-Spain border, the European Commission recognised the commitment the Government of Gibraltar has made to tackle tobacco smuggling and the significant steps taken to date, including restricting the number of cigarettes allowed in the area around the land border to 200 per person.
"The Government of Gibraltar remains ready to work directly with their Spanish counterparts to tackle this issue. But at the same time, the Commission raised concern about the lack of progress by the Spanish in addressing its recommendations and said that the Spanish checks giving rise to several hours waiting times at the Gibraltar/Spain border are disproportionate, a point that the UK government has made consistently clear for some time."