An international law enforcement operation involving the Netherlands, Poland and Europol has resulted in the arrest of 30 members of a prolific organized crime gang flooding Europe with millions of counterfeit cigarettes.
According to Europol, 94 tons of tobacco and 5.4 million counterfeit cigarettes have been removed from circulation following this international sweep. This gang is also believed to be involved in violent robberies.
This operation was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats.
Code-named operation PITBUUL, this operation took part in two phases. A first action day was carried out in the Netherlands at the end of March. Two illegal factories were dismantled in the Dutch cities of Schaijk and Heerlen with a production capacity of more than 1 million cigarettes per day, which equates to a tax loss of over €243,000 ($294,521) per day per factory.
A total of 21 Polish and Ukrainian workers were arrested on-site, and 5.4 million counterfeit cigarettes were seized alongside 40 tons of raw tobacco and 800 kilos of hookah tobacco.
A second action day was carried out in Poland last week to arrest the criminal masterminds running this gang. On this occasion, Polish law enforcement raided a dozen of addresses across the country. As a result, nine individuals were arrested and 54 tons of tobacco were seized alongside machinery used for the production of cigarettes. Officers also seized firearms and weapons alongside clothing resembling police uniforms, radio communication devices and signal jammers. According to initial estimates, the loss to the Polish budget is estimated in excess of €11 million.
Europol supported this case by organizing operational meetings, facilitating the exchange of information between the different countries involved and analyzing the operational data to identify the main targets. Its experts were deployed both in the Netherlands and in Poland to support the national authorities on the spot.
The investigation is still ongoing to try to find potential links to other European countries.