Spanish police have arrested two former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as part of an investigation into money laundering and tobacco smuggling, as the crack down on tobacco products makes the crime more lucrative.
Donna Maguire and Leonard Hardy, who have both served prison sentences in Germany and Holland for their roles in IRA attacks on the continent in the 1980s were arrested as part of a major police operation, the Belfast Telegraph reports.
Having turned their back on republican politics it is alleged they instead joined forces with a suspected tobacco smuggler from County Antrim as the price of tobacco products rockets and black market products become more desirable, particularly for those on lower incomes.
One of the Irish nationals also arrested as part of the operation has previously been questioned over a major cigarette smuggling operation after customs officials stopped a lorry in County Louth which was found to contain cigarettes with a retail value of £3.4 million.
The arrests have drawn comments from politicians who say that the attempts by the EU and domestic parliaments to making smoking all but illegal has created a lucrative market in black market tobacco.
David Atherton, chairman for campaign group Freedom2Choose said it should come as “no surprise to anyone associated with tobacco or economics that serious criminals are involved in smuggling on an industrial scale.”
“In Europe bar Norway, the UK and Ireland have the most expensive cigarettes at £8.50 and £7.80 respectively.”
“Spain’s is over half the price at £3.90. It is also ironic that the current spat between Spain and Gibraltar and the associated long queues at the border are over smuggling of cigarettes from Gibraltar which cost substantially less at £2.50.”
“Smuggling in Ireland is at epidemic levels. It is estimated that 28.3% of all tobacco in Ireland is contraband.”
“The anti smoker NGOs and quangos, state funded, pushing for higher taxes will only see governments see reduction in revenue and criminality increase. They have the perfect blueprint in the Prohibition of Alcohol in America,” he added.
UKIP Health spokesman Louise Bours said the “oppressive restrictions on the legal sale and packaging of tobacco” were “a gift to smugglers, money launderers and terrorists.”
She said the arrest of the terrorists, one of whom was given a nine year sentence in Germany after being found guilty of attempted murder and one a six year sentence for a failed bomb attack, proved the EU interference in the tobacco trade “is making criminals rich”.
“These restrictions make it vastly profitable for Asian factories to manufacture contraband cigarettes which are then smuggled into the UK.”
“The EU’s insistence on maintaining a perfect environment for fraudsters means a collapse in trade for British corner shops, which depend on tobacco sales to keep their businesses going.”
Among the measures in the EU Tobacco Products Directive are demands for picture health warnings which will dominate the front and back of all packaging, the banning of all flavoured cigarettes such as menthol, and a requirement that all packs have at least 20 cigarettes to leave room for health warnings.
Restrictions on e-cigarettes will come into place as well despite recent evidence showing that it is not a gateway to people taking up smoking but instead is helping smokers give up.