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Lebanon foils record cigarette smuggling attempt to Egypt

  • Customs officials inspect confiscated cigarettes last September.

BEIRUT: Lebanon thwarted the largest ever cigarette smuggling attempt to Egypt in December, the Egyptian Embassy announced Monday.

“Out of 15 containers, owned by a Jordanian company, four containers [were found to include] 40 tons of counterfeit cigarettes,” a statement by the embassy said.

Sources at the Port of Beirut said the operation took place in December, but few details were released to media at that time.

Discovery of the shipment at the port followed a tip to Lebanese authorities by the Eastern Tobacco Company, Egypt’s state-owned tobacco production and distribution monopoly, the statement said.

The investigation was coordinated among the Customs Department, the Regie and Lebanon’s state-run tobacco board, in addition to the ETC and the Egyptian Embassy.

“The goods in the four containers were destroyed in a clear challenge to the international tobacco smuggling mafia,” the Egyptian statement said.

The embassy said tobacco smuggling costs the Egyptian government an estimated $500 million a year in taxes, adding that counterfeit cigarettes pose a much higher heath risks than normal cigarettes.

The statement said that during the past two years cigarette smuggling has soared in Egypt.

“This is the first time that ETC prevails over the tobacco smuggling mafia,” the statement said.

In addition to coordinating the operation with Lebanese authorities, company officials will be mulling further cooperation with Lebanon on many levels, including importing Lebanese tobacco produce.

Dominated by ETC, the tobacco industry in Egypt is entirely reliant on imported tobacco as cultivation continues to be prohibited.

Costs of tobacco and alcoholic beverages climbed 7.7 percent last month compared to Dec. 2012, according to official Egyptian statistics.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2013, on page 5.
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