Bolivia Destroys 71 Tons of Contraband Cigarettes

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Bolivia began the destruction of 71 tons of contraband cigarettes, the largest such operation in the country’s history.

On August 24, Bolivia’s La Jornada reported that customs officials in Santa Cruz had begun the monumental task of destroying some 2.4 million cigarette packs illegally smuggled into the country. In total, an official said the load amounts to 71.1 tons of cigarettes that could have been sold on the black market for $347,000.

The contraband cigarettes reportedly originated in Paraguay, and were seized in two large-scale operations launched in June. Because of the sheer number of cigarettes involved, authorities believe destroying them all will take at least a week and a half.

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite these successful operations, the Bolivia-Paraguay border remains largely unmonitored, and contraband smugglers generally cross with ease. As InSight Crime has pointed out, the eastern Santa Cruz department is a hotbed for organized crime and smuggling operations stretching into Paraguay and Brazil, largely conducted via small aircraft.

A main contributor to this trend is the rampant corruption among Bolivian customs officials. To combat this, in June Customs Director Marlene Ardaya announced that all customs agents would have to carry special monitoring devices on them during work hours. While they function as pens, they are also equipped with small cameras and audio recorders, and random checks of employees’ monitoring devices would be conducted periodically.

While the sale of contraband seems like a lesser crime compared to cocaine trafficking, it is not so far removed from it. Contraband is actually quite commonly used by criminal structures to launder profits from other criminal activities. The lack of recorded transactions provides groups with an easy way to invest the bulk cash associated with drug profits, and allows them to diversify their income as well.

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