LYON, France – A joint operation involving INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO) in Eastern and Southern Africa against the illicit trafficking of cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol has resulted in the seizure of tonnes of illicitly traded products in seven countries.
Operation Meerkat (23-27 July) saw police and customs authorities carry out some 40 raids at seaports, inland border points, markets and shops in Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, where more than 32 million sticks of cigarettes (equivalent to 1.6 million cigarette packets), 134 tonnes of raw tobacco and almost 3,000 liters of alcohol were seized. As a result of these seizures national authorities have initiated a number of administrative investigations into tax evasion and other potential criminal offences by those involved.
The operation’s coordination unit based at the WCO’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office in Nairobi monitored the exchange of information between the participating countries, with support provided by INTERPOL’s Regional Bureaus in Nairobi and Zimbabwe and by officers from its Trafficking in Illicit Goods programme.
“Combating all forms of illicit international trade is a fundamental Customs function due to the presence of Customs officials at national borders,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “The WCO and its 178 members are committed to working in a coordinated manner with INTERPOL and Customs’ other partners in the fight against the smuggling of cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol, given the negative consequences for consumer health and safety, for state revenue collections, and for national economic competitiveness and growth,” stressed Mr Mikuriya.
INTERPOL’s role in the operation was undertaken within the framework of its Trafficking in Illicit Goods programme which aims to identify and dismantle the organized crime networks siphoning billions of Euros from the public purse through the trafficking of illicit goods.
“INTERPOL is pleased to have joined forces with the WCO in Operation Meerkat since it has demonstrated the need for customs, national and other law enforcement agencies to work closely together to develop a sustainable approach against the criminal networks behind the illicit trafficking of goods. The benefits of police and customs working closely together has again been proven by the number of products seized and the networks uncovered during Operation Meerkat which confirm the international scale of illicit trade,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.
With much of the illicit cigarettes or alcohol seized during Operation Meerkat illegally transported from bordering countries, Kumaren Moodley of the South African Revenue Service said: “One of the main challenge we face is understanding the volume of illicit goods coming into the country as well as monitoring and controlling our vast and expansive border line where goods come across.”
INTERPOL’s programme combating illicit trade aims to assist police across its 190 member countries to not only target the transnational crime groups but also identify the routes used in transporting illicit goods, which are often also used for other crimes such as human trafficking and drug smuggling.
“INTERPOL’s member countries have witnessed an unparalleled growth in the illicit trade of tobacco and alcohol products over recent years. Operation Meerkat has again revealed the transnational nature of illicit trade and how criminals will seek to undermine police, customs and revenue controls to amass huge profits,” said Roberto Manriquez, a coordinator of the operation and a criminal intelligence officer with INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods programme at its General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon.
Over the past decade, illicit trade has grown into a global phenomenon, taking on huge proportions and causing human, social, economic, political and environmental harm. It has also become a key source of funding for international organized criminal networks and undermines sustainable economic development.
The role that the private sector and industry play in collective efforts to fight illicit trade in partnership with INTERPOL’s member countries is an essential part of the collective campaign to disrupt the activities of the criminal groups responsible for the manufacture and distribution of illicit goods worldwide. A focal point for industry support is INTERPOL's Fund for a Safer World which will help the world police body develop a strong global programme against trafficking in illicit goods.