Govt defends record on tackling tobacco crime
The Gibraltar Government has said it is determined to “stamp out the menace of smuggling” as it lashed out at suggestions the Rock was seeing a return to the ‘the Bad Old Days’.
The Government was responding to a video recording posted to social media by GSD MP Trevor Hammond depicting a tobacco smuggling operation taking place just metres from Waterport Terraces.
In posting the footage Mr Hammond said he was ‘deeply concerned’ given that the smuggling was taking place in broad daylight as children played nearby.
He further questioned whether the authorities were turning a blind eye to smuggling in this area.
In a statement last night, however, the Government flagged that the footage was filmed on 25 January, just two days after 250 cartons of cigarettes were seized by HM Customs and where two arrests were made in exactly the same place.
On the same day that the video was filmed, 600 cartons of cigarettes were seized in that very location and, on the following day, 26 January, the vessel shown in the film was chased and then detained by HM Customs, although the occupants fled into Spain.
The Government further highlighted that, around the time that Mr Hammond’s video was filmed, at 1730hrs on 25th January, no-one - “not even Mr Hammond” - reported to HM Customs that any criminal activity was taking place.
“Whilst my Government is only too aware that smuggling has not yet been totally eradicated from Gibraltar’s beaches and border fences, we have greatly increased the number of Customs officers, introduced new legislation and, as a result, witnessed an increase in the amount of tobacco seized and the number of people arrested for smuggling,” Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.
“I am extremely proud of the work done by the men and women of HM Customs and the RGP.”
“We will continue our 24/7 fight against smuggling and Mr Hammond’s twenty second clip of footage will, in no way discredit them.”
“We suggest that next time, he, a Member of Parliament, witnesses criminal wrongdoing, he should report it to the proper authorities.”
The Government said it was disappointed that Mr Hammond chose to put the footage on social media without reporting it to the proper authorities.
“In the Facebook post, Mr Hammond also refers to ‘the Bad Old Days,’ an idea which is worthy of some consideration,” No.6 Convent Place said.
It highlighted how in 2009 and 2010, during the GSD’s last term of office, the number of cartons of cigarettes seized by HM Customs from smugglers was 11,672 cartons and 9,870 cartons respectively.
That contrasted with data for 2016 and 2017, when 17,690 cartons of cigarettes and 17,966 cartons were seized respectively.
The Government added that “in ‘the Bad Old Days’ of the GSD” in 2010, 16 persons were arrested by HM Customs for tobacco-smuggling offences.
Similar figures for the current administration’s time in office were 87 persons in 2016 and 55 persons in 2017.
Since 2014, the Government said it has also made several “significant” amendments to existing legislation with the aim of targeting tobacco smugglers.
There have been amendments to licence conditions, a tightening of club licences, the Statutory Amendments (Tobacco Act), the establishment of Special Zones and the establishment of Customs Posts on both Eastern Beach and Western Beach.
“This is hardly the work of a Government which is ‘turning a blind eye’,” it added.
The Government added that it has shown its determination to “stamp out the menace of smuggling” when, in 2015, it added 65 officers to the strength of HM Customs.
This, it said, allowed for the establishment of a full-time marine section, something which had not previously existed.
“So much for the past. What about the future? Residents of the Waterport Terraces area will be interested to learn that HM Customs’ headquarters, including its Anti-Smuggling Team, will shortly be re-located on to the neighbouring waterfront to act both as a deterrent to smugglers and as a practical instrument of law-enforcement,” the government said.