Detectives from Belfast Criminal Investigation Branch investigating organised criminality have carried out 18 searches across Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, Dundonald and Banbridge in conjunction with HMRC and FACT – the UK’s leading intellectual property protection organisation – today Wednesday, December 6.
During the searches they seized over 8,000 cigarettes, 2.9 kgs of rolling tobacco, 232 cigars, 50 illegal streaming devices and approximately £5,000 in cash.
Two males were arrested during the multi-agency operation. One 48-year-old man arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud in the Galliagh area of Derry/Londonderry has been bailed pending further enquiries.
A 31-year-old male arrested in the Dundonald area on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and possessing articles for use in fraud is currently helping with police enquiries.
Detective Inspector Natalie McNally said: “The joint operation today is a further demonstration of our determination to tackle organised crime and those that gain from it.
“Buying cheap counterfeit goods, cigarettes or tobacco products, which have been purchased without the relevant duty being paid, or illegal streaming devices – all of which may appear to be bargains – means that revenue to the legitimate economy is lost.
“This criminal activity puts jobs at risk and, ultimately, in terms of duty evasion, means there is less money available to provide for our public services, like health and education.
“There is also a wealth of evidence that shows money made from the sale of counterfeit goods is used to fund other forms of crime, so there really is no such thing as victimless crime. We all end up paying the price.”
Steve Tracey, Assistant Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: “Working together in partnership with other enforcement colleagues we can target the criminal gangs who are stealing from the taxpayer, robbing public services and undermining legitimate, honest traders.
“Tobacco fraud is not a victimless? crime and costs the UK around 2.4 billion a year. HMRC is determined to reduce the availability of illicit tobacco.”
Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT added: “Many people view piracy as a victimless crime, however consumers need to realise that illegal streaming devices offering unlawful access to TV, sport and films threaten our creative industries and the 1.9 million people in the UK working in them.
“From sound engineers, costume designers, set carpenters and camera crew – hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs are directly affected each time TV, sport or films are pirated.
“There are also many risks facing the consumer that they may not be aware of. Not only is using a device to stream content without the right permissions or subscriptions breaking the law, but these devices pose a fire and electrical risk, as well as often exposing users to malware, viruses and explicit content.”
Detective Inspector Natalie McNally added: “I would appeal for anyone with information regarding criminality by paramilitary organisations to contact police on 101. Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”