Mexico Makes Largest Ever Seizure of Contraband Cigarettes

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Mexico seized a shipment of contraband cigarettes worth over $12 million in the Pacific state of Sinaloa, one of the largest confiscations of the product ever made, according to officials.

Mexican officials announced on July 30 that they had confiscated 80 million cigarettes, reportedly originating from China and India, in the port city of Mazatlan, Sinaloa. The shipment was worth an estimated $12 million dollars, amounting to one of the biggest seizures of contraband cigarettes ever made, according to Mexican Health Minister Salomon Chertorivski.

The seizure comes a week after Mexican officials announced they had destroyed 12 million cigarettes and 18,000 bottles of whisky seized in the border city of Juarez, Chihuahua, earlier in July. In the last two years, some 3 billion illegal cigarettes have been confiscated in the country.

InSight Crime Analysis

The number of contraband cigarettes seized in Mexico has been on the rise in recent years. According to the Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Cofepris) the number of cigarettes decommissioned in 2012 will likely grow by 50 percent compared to 2010. Mexico raised the price of a packet by $0.52 last year, and a packet of contraband cigarettes can now sell for as little as 25 percent of the normal price (roughly $3).

The contraband cigarette trade takes place across Latin America. In June, Bolivia seized its largest ever shipment of smuggled cigarettes, worth a little over $100,00. In Colombia, meanwhile, a recent study by national merchant’s federation Fenalco found that 14 percent of cigarettes consumed in the country were contraband.

Mexican officials stated in October that smuggled cigarettes make up about 10 percent of the country’s total tobacco market, having grown from 2 percent in 2010, reported EFE. Many of the illegal cigarettes enter the country from China, Vietnam, Paraguay and India, according to the head of the National Alliance for Small Businesses.

Contraband is also a very common way for organized crime to launder illegal proceeds. The large cash transactions give them a very quick and easy way to inject money into the underground economy and establish an additional revenue stream at the same time.

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