PDRM Busts Illegal Cigarette Ops, Authorities Warn Of Tighter Crackdowns
Rising illegal cigarette sales coincide with rising costs of legal cigarettes.
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Plainclothes policemen raided a nondescript building at an unnamed port in an crackdown operation on illegal cigarettes. The sting was carried out based on reliable information from tipsters.
Two men, who are suspected of being lookout personnel for the smuggling syndicate, were arrested on the spot during the surprise raid. According to Sin Chew, the police have been tracking this syndicate for the last two years.
227 boxes of illegal cigarettes and a truck were seized as well. Police estimate the total value of the seized illegal goods at RM2.749 million.
The illegal goods were on the way to being shipped to Klang, Shah Alam, and Kuala Selangor.
Apparently, the illegal operation set up base near the port for ease of smuggling both via land and sea. In fact, their smuggling operation is so broad that it is understood that they deal their business online as well!
Ops Kontraban In A Bid To Stop Smuggling Activities
Law enforcement have been conducting Ops Kontraban since January this year, and have carried out dozens of stings under this operation in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, and Johor.
Over 100 people have been arrested in this operation, with all of them involved in the illegal activity of smuggling contraband items including cigarettes.
Tobacco and alcohol are two of the most common smuggled goods that evade taxes, though law enforcement agencies continue to investigate and actively crack down on these illegal markets.
Illegal cigarettes are often made of inferior quality, repackaged and sold at low prices. Oftentimes, other substances are also mixed into the tobacco, which can cause untold health issues in addition to existing health risks from tobacco use.
A Hit To The Country’s Coffers
The big problem is that illegal cigarettes evade taxation, which costs the country up to RM5 billion in lost tax revenue each year.
In fact, investigations show that Malaysia is the global “illegal cigarette powerhouse”, as such illegal activities are rampant.
In fact, former IGP Tan Sri Musa Hassan pointed out that many smokers in Malaysia have switched to illegal cigarettes as legal cigarettes are deemed ‘too expensive’.
Since illegal cigarettes now cost less than legal cigarettes, smokers are turning to the smuggled goods. Naturally, sales of legal cigarettes with levied taxes suffer.
Although the World Health Organization’s stance on tobacco control is to increase the price of cigarettes to reduce the purchase and consumption of cigarettes, statistics from many countries where a significant population smokes show that this “prohibition and levy” method has done little to dissuade smokers.
Disturbingly, it has instead seen a growing population of teenagers and women who smoke.
Ultimately, Malaysia will not be increasing taxes on cigarettes. In the Budget 2022 as announced by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, only e-cigarette liquid or paste (such as the kind used for vapes) were levied with a domestic tax.
Kastam Not Playin’ No Mo’
The Royal Malaysian Customs Department (JKDM) is not taking the issue lightly either. They have declared war on all illegal cigrattes, tobacco, and alcohol.
JKDM will crackdown on merchants and syndicates selling these illegal substances. Any persons caught selling these illicit cigarettes and alcohol will be arrested immediately. Ignorance of the law excuses no one, and anyone arrested will not be able to claim ignorance for leniency.
Additionally, Musa Hassan noted that PDRM, together with JKDM, will tighten border inspections to halt smuggling activities through Malaysian borders.
Still, it’s a risky job. Syndicates do not like it when law enforcement officers get invovled to stop the illegal activites, and officers have had physical altercations with smugglers while doing their job.
Water You Doing With Those Cigs?
Musa Hassan also says that these illegal supply chains, usually shipped over water, often consists of many individuals. Some may belong to foreign criminal rings, but sometimes local Malaysians such as fishermen are also involved in running the supply chain.
Smaller piers with long, extended coastlines are perfect areas for smugglers to carry out their illegal operations. Musa Hassan brings up Johor as an example, which has many small piers where smugglers will offload their illegal load.
In East Malaysia, syndicates also abuse ‘barter trade’ to smuggle illegal cigarettes into Malaysia, hence removing the risk of a cash or paper trail.
Usually, the boats used in these sort of smuggling activities are repurposed passenger boats, fishing boats, and even freighters. Smuggled goods would be hidden within certain areas of the ship in an attempt to elude notice.
Occasionally, crackdown operations receive a breakthrough thanks to information from whistleblowers who turn on their criminal organization over disagreements of profits.
Landlords Renting Property For Illegal Business Can Be Charged Too
Additionally, Musa Hassan also warned all property owners to learn what kind of business is conducted on their legal property.
If a shoplot or warehouse is raided for running illegal businesses, the legal landlord can also face legal action for allowing such activities to happen on their property.
Hence, all property owners are urged to conduct background checks on their tenants before renting.
If illegal cigarettes or other substances are found on a property, the legal owner may be charged under Article 135 of the Customs Act 1967. Accordingly, any owner knowingly allowing their property to be used for illegal activites will face a RM100,000 fine, jailtime of at least 6 months to not more than 5 years, or both.
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Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.