Millions of cigarettes seized during Operation GRYPHON II

12 July 2016

Brussels, 12 July 2016

Press Release

Initiated and coordinated by the WCO, 101 Customs administrations took part in GRYPHON II, a two month operation focusing on Customs controls associated with shipments of tobacco products which began on 1 March 2016 and ended 30 April 2016.

The Operation aimed at coordinating and boosting efforts on the application of core Customs legislations, powers and competencies across the entire range of Customs control and clearance processes, including checks on duty free outlets, free zones, bonded warehouses, as well as express and postal shipments in relation to illicit trade in tobacco.

In addition to Member Administrations, officials from the six WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Office Network as well as OLAF and Europol, contributed to the success of the Operation, in particular by facilitating and coordinating information and intelligence exchange. The United Kingdom Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs as well as the Australian Border Force provided support to the initiative by seconding specialized Customs officers in charge of ensuring collection and sharing of intelligence.

GRYPHON II yielded impressive results with 729 million cigarettes, 287,000 cigars, and 250 tonnes of other tobacco products seized. They included genuine branded cigarettes, counterfeit cigarettes, and cigarettes from brands categorized as ‘cheap whites’. Components of machines used to manufacture cigarettes were also seized along with bulk cash and more than 12 million excise duty stamps.

Moreover, eight illegal tobacco factories have been dismantled, over 50 criminals were arrested and several investigations are still ongoing in a vital effort to disrupt and break down criminal networks behind this trade.

“Operation GRYPHON II is another triumph for the international Customs community demonstrating once again that by standing united in combatting illicit trade we have a much higher impact on the criminal underworld,” said Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General of the WCO. “The Operation was also more focused on the consequence phase which reflects the WCO’s commitment to address illicit trade by going beyond the seizures and ensuring that, in cooperation with relevant national authorities, investigations are initiated and criminals are arrested and prosecuted,” he added.

The analysis of the seizures indicates that smugglers used sophisticated concealment methods by camouflaging illicit tobacco products in a variety of cover loads, including scrap metal, furniture, sneakers, timber, cement, charcoal and plastic housewares. Many of these cover loads were often of low value and were used by smugglers to ensure the highest profit margin.

Operation GRYPHON II confirmed a well-known fact that Free Trade Zones are used for illicit trade. Consignments travelling between free zones were reported to have been ‘lost’ or to have disappeared.

During Operation GRYPHON II, several shipments of cigarettes were targeted because their supply chains had no commercial logic. They were departing from Asian countries, crossing the Mediterranean region, arriving in South America and later returning to Asia. It is of the upmost importance to remain vigilant about the risks posed by this type of routing as they frequently result in the diversion of goods.

Another interesting phenomenon that was highlighted during the Operation relates to shipments of cigarettes, which indicated conflict areas or sensitive zones as final destinations, where Customs controls might be temporarily disturbed.

Participating administrations monitored cross-border shipments of tobacco products using risk assessment techniques and profiles which were built based on the results of the first edition of the Operation. Overall the strong support by WCO Members, the enhanced exchange of intelligence and information, and the use of risk management were the key contributors to the success of Operation GRYPHON II.