Eight million Winston cigarettes thought to have originated from Dubai were seized in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, British customs officials said. The seizure was worth an estimated £1.7 million (Dh10m) in lost duty, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

A multi-agency cross-border operation targeting the illicit tobacco trade was conducted and two men were detained.

“HMRC can confirm that we have indications that the product came from Dubai and investigations are continuing,” the HMRC said in a statement.

Officials said they suspected that the Port of Dubai was used to ship the product, however they were still investigating where the cigarettes were produced.

“Tobacco smuggling is organised crime on a global scale, with huge profits ploughed straight back into the criminal underworld, feeding activities like drug dealing, people smuggling and fraud. Buying cheap cigarettes without the duty paid on them means trading with criminals and undermining honest businesses,” John Whiting, the assistant director of criminal investigation at HMRC, said yesterday.

According to a report by the European Commission’s Taxation and Customs Union last year, more than 12 per cent of the illegal cigarettes, cosmetics and other items smuggled into Europe carried documentation showing they were produced in the Emirates.
European customs officials at the time acknowledged that the validity of documentation found with illegal goods could also be questioned.

David Boublil, a spokesman for the Taxation and Customs Union’s directorate general, said the origin of the product referred to where it was produced or where the manufacturer or importer pretended it was produced.

“We did not try to distinguish between countries of origin and countries of provenance this time,” he said. “It is difficult to make the distinction, because if the counterfeiters are ready to break one law, they may break another one and try to produce fake certificates.”

Customs officials in Dubai said many items attributed to the Emirates may have passed through UAE ports after originally being shipped from another country. They pointed out that Dubai Customs did not have legal authority to inspect goods on ships that arrived in UAE ports on their way to other destinations.

Many goods from other parts of the world transit through the UAE, Mr Boublil acknowledged.

The report showed that 56 per cent of illegal cigarettes seized were made in the UAE, as were 26 per cent of foodstuffs and beverages, 13 per cent of cosmetics and personal care products and 9 per cent of medicines.