During the second week of May, the French Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale) with the support of the French Judicial Customs (SEJF) arrested five individuals and seized 250,000 counterfeit cigarettes in a series of raids in the city of Nantes.
This action follows an earlier one on April 9 which saw seven other members of the same organized crime group arrested in the cities of Nantes, Rodez and Montpellier. On this occasion, close to five tonnes of counterfeit cigarettes were seized, alongside €37,000 in cash.
Europol deployed specialists from its European Financial Economic Crime Centre on both the action days to support the French authorities.
This organized crime group received the illegal cigarettes from two criminal networks based abroad, arranged for their storage in various cities in France and then managed their subsequent distribution through a number of criminal wholesalers – composed mostly of Georgian, Armenian and Ukrainian nationals – onto the French black market.
The same organized crime group was also involved in the management of payments and the corresponding financial flows. This criminal group has now been fully dismantled.
Since the start of the investigation, the French investigators collected evidence that over 75 tonnes of counterfeit cigarettes were imported and distributed throughout France for a loss to the French budget estimated close to €22 million.
Europol has supported this investigation from the onset and organized coordination meetings with the national investigators involved to discuss procedural requirements and identify a clear way forward. Its experts thereafter organized the intensive exchange of information needed to prepare for the action days in France.
This investigation was carried out under the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats.