In a significant anti-smuggling operation yesterday, customs units confiscated 3.3 million packs of cigarettes on their way into Turkey onboard a ship.
The cigarettes confiscated in the operation are believed to have a market value of TL 28.5 million ($9.85 million), which would bring some TL 23 million in tax revenues if sold legally.
Acting on a tip, customs units followed the ship, which departed from the Magosa port in Turkish Cyprus with a declared route to Ukraine's Skadovsk port.
The ship, which passed through the Bosporus and went on to the Black Sea, was put under surveillance. After cruising off the Ukrainian coast for a while, the ship headed back to Istanbul.
The ship's operators and crew declared they unloaded the ship's freight in Ukraine and presented a document that said the same.
However, Coast Guard and customs enforcement units boarded the ship and found the cigarette packs on board, which weighed some 100 tons in total.
An investigation was launched into six crew members.
Smuggled cigarettes are among common items street vendors hawk all across Turkey, but an increased crackdown by security forces has dealt a blow to the illegal trade. The cigarettes, called "cheap white" in law enforcement jargon, are sold for an average price of TL 3, a lower price than the cheapest legal cigarettes. Cigarettes made in Bulgaria are the most commonly smuggled cigarettes into Turkey. Smuggled cigarettes from China and the United Arab Emirates are also among the most trafficked.
According to police reports, cigarettes from Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries are smuggled into Turkey through Iraq, Syria and other countries in the Middle East and sometimes through the eastern ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey coordinates efforts with neighboring countries against international smuggling.
Turkey's eastern and southeastern provinces bordering Middle Eastern along with Asian countries lead the list of countries from which smuggled cigarettes are confiscated.
The rise in smuggled cigarette is attributed to the low tax on tobacco products in countries in the region, increased import taxes for cigarettes in Turkey and lower sentences for cigarette smugglers compared to smugglers of other commodities. The increase in taxes imposed on tobacco products is part of the government's fight to decrease the country's smoking habit, coupled with a ban on smoking in public places such as in indoor areas of cafes and restaurants.