EU prosecutors order 12 arrests in cigarette smuggling probe
Twelve people have been arrested in Italy on suspicion of €3.5 million cigarette smuggling plot, following an operation led by a branch of the EU’s Luxembourg-based fraud fighting agency EPPO.
Italian police seized a speedboat, seven vehicles and €16,000 in cash following the investigation headed by the Sicily-based Palermo office of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, EPPO said in a statement on Tuesday.
A criminal gang is suspected of organising a large-scale smuggling scheme for counterfeit cigarettes, bringing them from Tunisia to the island of Sicily.
The counterfeit cigarettes had a market value of €3.5 million and the operation caused an estimated loss of more than €6 million to the Italian and EU budget, EPPO said.
The scale of the losses to the bloc’s funds led to EPPO’s Palermo office taking charge of the investigation, the agency added, resulting in the first case in which the office had issued arrest warrants.
Since EPPO opened in Luxembourg in June, it has received more than 2,400 reports of crime against the EU budget.
Earlier this month, it helped secure its first conviction after a Slovak mayor was handed a three-year suspended sentence for providing false documents to illegally obtain financial aid from EU money.
Poland, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Sweden are the only EU countries not participating, but Sweden plans on joining next year.
EPPO has 22 national prosecutors, each one representing their home country, with cases tried in national courts.