An ICIJ Investigation Big Tobacco Smuggling

The tobacco lobby goes global

Down-and-out in developed nations, Big Tobacco is refocusing its lobbying on emerging markets.

In this investigation

Big Tobacco Smuggling
How Clarke defended company
Big Tobacco Smuggling
The multi-million dollar trade route

About this investigation

During 2000 and 2001, a team of reporters from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists broke a series of landmark stories exposing how leading tobacco companies worked with criminal networks to smuggle cigarettes around the world.

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Kenneth Clarke, currently embroiled in an increasingly acrimonious bid for the Tory leadership, today faces a major embarrassment through his boardroom connection with the cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco.

A European Union lawsuit against two major U.S. tobacco companies says RJR Nabisco had dealings with suspected narcotics traffickers in Spain and money-laundering suspects in the Caribbean, and claims that smuggling activities by Philip Morris “have enabled drug lords to launder their illicit profits.”

The British government is considering launching an in-depth investigation into “extremely serious” allegations of international tobacco smuggling by giant tobacco multinational BAT (British American Tobacco).

Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco multinational, has engaged in smuggling and drug-money laundering for years in a scheme to avoid taxes and boost sales of its cigarettes, according to allegations in a new racketeering lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court.

The proliferation of tobacco smuggling is so widespread that it is sometimes hard to distinguish between criminal organizations, which do the actual smuggling, and the manufacturers who feed it and often oversee it.

In his statement to Congress in March 2000, the head of U.S. Customs — a former Marine and New York City cop who rose to the rank of police commissioner before turning to federal and international law enforcement — alerted lawmakers to a new and alarming problem. There had been a “dramatic increase” in the number of cigarette imports to the United States, starting roughly in the last half of 1999.

On August 28, 2000, a ship owned by Greek Cypriot Christos Tornaritis attempted to ram a patrol boat of armed customs officers off the coast of Crete. The officers had tracked the 1,542-ton Cambodian-registered freighter from the Cyprus port of Limassol to Port Said, Egypt. It was now bound for Latvia. The officers seized the “Marina” and discovered 7 million packs of British-made cigarettes on board, brands normally smoked only in the United Kingdom.

Letters discovered in BAT’s archives in Guildford, England, are some of the most explicit pieces of evidence of the company’s involvement in cigarette smuggling, in this case in central Africa.

Twenty miles off the northern coast of Venezuela lies a tiny, sunbaked island called Aruba. Like so many self-governing Caribbean islands that cling to the coast of the Americas, it has been a smugglers’ paradise since colonial times. For decades, it also has been a linchpin in an illegal tobacco trade that Colombian authorities claim comprised as much as 90 percent of cigarettes sent into Colombia.

Big Tobacco Smuggling

Philip Morris’ Mafia connections

The killing of two Guardia di Finanza agents in Brindisi, Italy, reflects the powerful underworld interests involved in tobacco smuggling into Italy.

Dino Bravo, a former World Wrestling Federation wrestler and mob enforcer, was sitting in his leather recliner, programming his new VCR on March 12, 1993, when two men walked into his luxury home just north of Montreal and shot him seven times in the head. Police later found in his home stacks of cash and documents related to the cigarette smuggling business.

A year-long investigation by the ICIJ shows that tobacco company officials at BAT, Philip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds have worked closely with companies and individuals directly connected to organized crime in Hong Kong, Canada, Colombia, Italy and the United States.

In its search to maintain and enlarge cigarette markets and corporate revenue, British American Tobacco exploited a sophisticated network of smuggling routes throughout Asia.

Major tobacco multinationals implicated in cigarette smuggling, tax evasion, documents show.

  During 2000 and 2001, a team of reporters from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists broke a series of landmark stories…

The Chinese consume almost one out of every three cigarettes manufactured worldwide, or 1.6 trillion out of about 5.2 trillion cigarettes consumed annually. And their consumption grows about 2 percent each year. It’s no wonder, then, that in the early 1990s British American Tobacco considered China “key to BATCo’s longterm success,” according to an internal company document.

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