A fistful of smokes and a cigarette with no name


Out of the millions of illicit cigarettes confiscated by customs officers in Belgium every year not all end up in the incinerator

Keeping tabs

Customs officers in Belgium seized no fewer than 262 million illicit cigarettes in 2015, or about 13.1 million packets of 20. An impressive result, but did you know that in some cases, the Customs service sells off some of those confiscated gaspers to third parties?

They come in two forms: counterfeits of major brands like Marlboro or Kent, and “cheap whites” – generic cigarettes of unheard-of brands, usually low in quality and price. The counterfeits are destroyed by burning; the cheap whites are sold to the public in countries outside the EU.

Open VLD politician Luk Van Besien has a problem with this state of affairs. Cheap whites are made in Russia and China, but also in Italy. The ones that are not stopped by Customs are sold at prices made artificially low by the lack of VAT, excise duty and import tariffs at a cost to the national accounts.

According to the auditors KPMG, the market for cheap whites in Europe is growing. While 262 million were seized in Belgium in 2015, the total the previous year was only 32 million – a sign that the overall market, while likely much bigger, is probably growing at roughly the same rate.

Van Besien has asked federal finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt to draw up a code of conduct for government services in relation to confiscated goods and forfeited assets to govern what may or may not be sold on. The same question raised last year in the same terms has yet to receive an answer.

Photo: Ingimage