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Brussels, 1 October 2010

“Operation Sirocco”: 40 million cigarettes seized in joint customs operation

Around 40 million cigarettes, 1 243kg of hand-rolled tobacco, 7 038 litres of alcohol and 8 million other counterfeit items including clothing, shoes, toys and electronics, were seized during a joint customs cooperation, coordinated by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). “Operation Sirocco”, which also led to the arrest of 3 suspected cigarette traffickers, was a joint project carried out by the EU and 11 partner countries from the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The final results of this operation, which was conducted in June 2010, were made public today at a meeting in Amman, Jordan.

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for taxation, customs, anti-fraud and audit, said: “Customs operations not only safeguard the EU’s financial interests but also protect our citizens and legitimate businesses. Operation Sirocco shows the great results we can achieve by working in cooperation with our international partners to combat smuggling and fraud. I would like to congratulate all participants for their efforts in this joint customs operation and strongly encourage more such joint actions in the future.”

The joint customs operation code-named "SIROCCO" focused on deep sea containers loaded in China or the United Arab Emirates and arriving in countries of the Union for the Mediterranean. The aim of the operation was to identify consignments suspected of containing counterfeit or smuggled genuine cigarettes, as well as other counterfeit and illegal goods. The seizures made during this operation on cigarettes alone averted potential losses of customs duties and taxes in the EU of approximately € 8 million. The 40 million cigarettes seized equal the yearly consumption of 5 000 persons smoking 20 cigarettes per day.

“SIROCCO” involved customs authorities from the 27 EU Member States and 11 Non-EU partner countries from the Union for the Mediterranean (Albania, Croatia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Montenegro, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey) with the support of the European Commission, the World Customs Organization (WCO), Europol and Interpol.

The operation was coordinated at OLAF headquarters in Brussels via a Permanent Operational Co-ordination Unit staffed with customs liaison officers from 9 EU Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Romania), Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, as well as one liaison officer from Europol.

In the past, several other joint customs operations such as "Diabolo II" were held by OLAF and successfully led to the seizures of millions of counterfeit cigarettes and other items (see IP/10/99 and MEMO/10/23).

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