Dismantling of the largest counterfeit cigarette factory in France
The largest counterfeit cigarette factory in history was dismantled in France this Thursday, January 12 by the gendarmerie. The site was in Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf, near Rouen. Nearly 100 tonnes of tobacco were seized and nine people arrested.
There was everything to make, package, ship the counterfeit cigarettes, including a living space so you didn’t have to leave the premises. The gendarmes dismantled this Thursday, January 12, near Rouen, the largest clandestine cigarette factory to date in France.
More than 100 tons of products were seized. In detail, there are, in particular, 55 tons of cigarettes and 50 tons of labels, filters, paper, packaging. There are also 18 tons of tobacco residues and cigarette waste. The resale price of counterfeit tobacco is estimated at 13.7 million euros, according to the national gendarmerie. It is, to date, the most important clandestine factory discovered to date in France.
“To date, this is the largest factory of counterfeit cigarettes in activity discovered in France”, confirms this Sunday to franceinfo Colonel Thierry Jourdren who commands the Rouen research section.
The first was in December 2021 by customs in Poincy, a small town in Seine-et-Marne of 750 inhabitants. Since this “first”, two other clandestine workshops have been uncovered: a packaging site in La Longueville (North) and another storage place in Poincy.
On January 12, the gendarmes, alerted by Europol at the end of 2022 to the presence of international cigarette trafficking in the industrial zone of Saint-Aubin-lès-Elbeuf, near Rouen, discovered a real integrated factory.
Cigarette smuggling is becoming industrialized
This factory has three units. There is a production unit with two chains, another for making cigarettes from raw tobacco and, finally, another dedicated to packaging in packets and then in cartridges in the name of a famous manufacturer.
On site, the sixty gendarmes also discovered a storage area where the cartons of cigarettes were packaged in cardboard on pallets covered with film, all ready for delivery.
To operate this production site on an industrial scale, the criminals have set up a complete living area on site. There was a dormitory equipped with about fifteen beds, a kitchen area, a dining area and a relaxation area, which allowed individuals to live on site in complete autonomy. There was also a generator. A ton of food was donated to the Food Bank.
All of the products seized were immediately destroyed, as were the production machines, the gendarmerie said. This place of production was in an industrial area. A location which is not surprising for Colonel Thierry Jourdren: “It is an area away from a built-up area where you have heavy goods vehicles entering and leaving, so the establishment of this structure passed clearly unnoticed in the landscape.”
Nine people taken into custody
Nine individuals, aged 21 to 55, all of foreign nationality, were arrested and placed in police custody. The majority of them are of Moldovan nationality.
In view of the scale of this case, the Rouen public prosecutor’s office has relinquished its jurisdiction in favor of the national jurisdiction for the fight against organized crime (Junalco) in Paris, which has requested in particular the Central Office for the Fight against Itinerant Delinquency (OCLDI) and the judicial investigation department of Finance (SEJF). The nine people arrested were presented this Sunday, January 15 to justice in Paris.
War in Ukraine shifts traffic to France
Traffic is booming. More than 284 tons of contraband tobacco were seized in 2020 in France, 402 tons in 2021 and more than 600 tons, including more than two thirds of cigarettes, in the first ten months of 2022.
Criminal organizations in Eastern Europe, from the Baltic countries to the Balkans, have a stranglehold on tobacco trafficking. Previously established in Ukraine and then in Poland, the factories began, after the Russian offensive in Ukraine, to take root closer to the French borders, in Belgium in particular.
They are now settling in France, where the black market represents around 30% of the tobacco in circulation according to the authorities. Figures that are disputed by some experts. Traffickers now want to bring production and consumption closer together to optimize transport costs.
Seven million euros in gain for three months of activity
The enormous profits generated arouse the appetite of criminal organizations often specialized in narcotics, which seek to diversify. “The manufacturing cost is one euro per pack, the rest is margin,” recalled Christophe Perruaux, director of the SEJF, in charge of the two Poincy cases and now that of Rouen, in early December.
“A clandestine factory operates for a maximum of three months,” explained the head of customs intelligence, Florian Colas, in early December. Its production lines produce an average of 700 packets per minute, 4,200 cartridges per hour. “Each machine costs between 50,000 and 200,000 euros, they are profitable in a few days and the margin rates are staggering”, he added.
At the rate of 8 hours a day, these factories bring in, according to customs information, from 80,000 to 120,000 euros per day, or 7 million euros for three months.