The Irish Republican Army (IRA) and organised crime are becoming major players in the Australian cigarette business, according to several newspapers.
The Irish Independent reports a senior figure in the South Armagh Provisional IRA has been arrested in Spain in connection with illicit tobacco, whilst The Times says organised criminals in Manchester now represent 1.3 percent of the Australian market.
Australia already has standardised, non-branded packaging for cigarettes a policy known as “plain packaging”. Ireland is phasing them in and this is believed to be the reason the IRA have found it easy to enter the market. The policy makes anti-forgery packaging designs illegal so they can no longer be used as a way of protecting consumers from illegal products.
Spanish police have already detained ex-IRA bombers Leonard ‘Bap’ Hardy, originally from west Belfast, and his wife Donna Maguire. Whilst she was released he is now being accused of consorting with a Malaysian businessman to flood Australia with cheap cigarettes in plain packets.
Over the Irish Sea in Manchester the Police are investigation a criminal gang said to be linked to a company called JSS Tobacco. The company’s registered office is empty and their company secretary was a third-party service acting on behalf of a businessman in Dubai. A Police Assistant Commissioner working on the case told The Times it was “one of the largest organised crime set-ups in relation to international tobacco importation”. The smuggling operation they have already uncovered is said to be worth £45m.
The British government has now announced it is to rush through legislation to bring in plain packaging. This had led to concerns smugglers will also be able to take advantage of the lucrative UK market. In order to protect their businesses tobacco firms are now considering suing the British government for theft of intellectual property in a move that could cost the taxpayer £11bn.
South Armagh IRA already make a fortune from smuggling and fraud. Their principle businesses are the moving of petrol from the Republic of Ireland to the UK, where it is more highly taxed. They also use EU subsidies as a source of revenue by moving animals and produce from one side of the border to the other to double claim.