New measures toughen stance on tobacco smuggling
Gibraltar’s law enforcement agencies will be given tougher search powers under the Tobacco Act as part of a wider crackdown on cigarette smuggling that also includes beefed-up security at the border fence.
HM Customs has also strengthened its presence on Western Beach, where GBC last week filmed smugglers in action in broad daylight on a packed beach.
Draft legislation published yesterday seeks to amend the Tobacco Act 1997 to extend the powers to search without a warrant premises that are licensed under the Act.
Once approved by Parliament, police and Customs officers will have free access to any premises with a retail or wholesale licence to sell tobacco to ensure it is compliant with the Tobacco Act. In the past, a search warrant was needed.
It means officers can enter the premises to “check records, to see if they are fulfilling their obligations, to see if they have the amounts stipulated in the licence within the premises,” said John Rodriguez, the Collector of Customs.
“For example, if a license only allows them to have 30 cigarette boxes at any time in the premises, officers will be able to go in and count without the need of having a search warrant.”
It would also be illegal for anybody to impede a Customs or police officer from accessing the premises.
In addition, anyone who “by force or violence, assaults, opposes, resists, molests, hinders or obstructs any police or customs officer” tries to stop officials from doing their duty such as entering or searching a premises will be guilty of an offence under the Tobacco Act.
It will also be illegal to remove, destroy or damage tobacco in the bid to obstruct officers from carrying out their duty.
Giving false information will also be deemed an offense, be this on a document or when questioned by the police or customs officers in respect of the import or sales of cigarettes.
Gibraltar’s Customs has also reacted to the issue of smugglers at Western Beach after GBC broadcast its footage last week.
The frontier fence at Western Beach has been reinforced with extra strands of barbed wire extending out to sea and hardened fences placed in parallel to the wire.
The Department of Technical Services “placed substantial amounts of barbed wire and we have created a double filter down there [at the frontier fence] to make it harder for those who wish to come into Gibraltar or leave Gibraltar with engage in illicit activity,” Mr Rodriguez said.
During the day over the past five days, there has been a minimum of two Customs officers permanently stationed at Western Beach, who “have been overtly and covertly working at the scene,” he added.
“We have already arrested five persons here at Western Beach, seized 40,000 cigarettes, we have seized one motor vehicle as well.”
Mr Rodriguez also noted that beach users have welcomed the new measures.
“They are very supportive, the comments and the feedback I have had from my officers who have been here for the past four or five days have been they are welcomed,” he said.
“They obviously do not want to see the anti-social behaviour that comes with the illicit smuggling activity because they have young kids, most of them running around.”
During what is known by Customs as the ‘silent hours’, the night shift of officers have instructions to conduct extra patrols in the area, in addition to the covert team who are also undertaking patrols.
Summing up, “in respect of premises, in respect of beefing up the frontier fence, in respect of having more resources down here [at Western Beach] and in respect of legislation changes we feel that it is a great move forward for the future,” said Mr Rodriguez.
The Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo said: "We will work with Customs to continue to support their work in controlling the illicit trade in tobacco.”
“That means giving them the resources necessary and the legislative powers necessary when they seek that we should provide them with greater powers.”
“John Rodriguez and his team have my full confidence and I thank them on behalf of their community for the sterling work they do.”