Estonian tax authority officials uncovered an illegal cigarette factory producing counterfeit cigarettes in the search of a manufacturing building in Saku Municipality on Friday. Eight people present at the site were detained as suspects and later released.
In the building, located in the village of Jälgimäe, Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) officials found equipment needed to cure tobacco as well as for producing and packaging cigarettes, including a production and packing line as well as raw materials such as filters, rolling paper, cardboard layout sheets for cigarette packaging bearing Marlboro Gold branding, according to a press release.
In cooperation with the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), eight people present at the site at the time were detained as suspects; they were released following procedural operations.
Neither the address of the building nor the persons working in the building had been issued authorization for the production of excise goods by the MTA.
According to Eduard Rõmmel, head of the Second Northern Division of the MTA's Investigation Department, the evidence gathered at the site provides sufficient grounds to suspect that the people involved had been planning to start producing very large quantities of contraband cigarettes.
"If such a factory were launched at full capacity, the state would have suffered huge tax losses on a daily basis," Rõmmel explained, noting that the production capacity of the equipment found Friday is around 1 million cigarettes a day. "The state would have lost about €163,000 a day if these cigarettes had been sold on the illegal market."
Illegal cigarette mills have previously been discovered in Estonia in 2005 and 2015; in both cases, people connected to the production were identified and prosecuted.
Contraband tobacco mills are becoming increasingly popular across Europe, with the number of such production sites busted rising from fewer than ten in 2011 to more than 50 in 2020.
"Setting up illegal cigarette factories within the EU is attractive for a number of reasons," the MTA official explained. "The EU has a Schengen area where there is no permanent customs or border control between member states; trade between member states is based on the integrity and trust of economic operators, which is then exploited by criminal groups."
Criminal proceedings regarding the Saku Municipality counterfeit cigarette mill are being conducted by the Northern District Prosecutor's Office as the MTA's Investigation Department conducts the preliminary investigation.
Editor: Aili Vahtla