Smoked out: airport customs force seizes 7.6 tonnes of counterfeit shisha tobacco
International customs collaboration has led to a successful strike against a criminal network that was smuggling large quantities of tobacco which it intended to sell as a counterfeit branded product.

In mid-January 2021, having analysed the transport route taken, Austrian customs officials working at the Customs Office at Vienna International Airport in the freight clearance area decided to examine in detail two shipments from Dubai. They scored a direct hit: 7.6 tonnes of water pipe tobacco masquerading as a tobacco brand were found to be counterfeit and were seized by customs and subsequently destroyed.

Finance Minister Gernot Blumer commented: “The risk involved in consuming illegally imported, fake tobacco should not be underestimated: it starts with the dubious production locations and methods used; and, of course, the substances and additives used are not known. That is why one area of focus for the customs investigation teams around the country is investigating cases of cigarette and tobacco smuggling at both national and international level. And it’s also important to state that, in their daily fight against smuggling, the customs forces are protecting the businesses and businesspeople in Austria and the EU who abide by the rules.”

Counterfeiters’ sophisticated methods foiled by experienced customs officials

In this particular case, the smugglers used very sophisticated methods. The goods were dispatched on a roundabout route.  In January 2021, a German company sent 5 palettes containing 350 boxes of shisha tobacco by air from Dubai to Minsk in Belarus. From there the consignment, totalling 2.6 tonnes, was sent by truck to Austria via Poland and Germany. The fake tobacco appears to have come into play in Germany, where there was a transshipment and the fake tobacco was swapped for the original.

The goods were then supposed to be shipped by air from Austria to Ukraine. Furthermore, the outer boxes appeared to be originals; however, the tins and the tobacco showed signs of being forgeries. Customs officials had seized a similar shipment weighing some 5 tonnes just before Christmas 2020. The recipient of both shipments was a Russian shisha group which was supposed to take delivery of the goods at an address in Ukraine.

Instead of profiting from the shisha fumes, the criminal network will now be fuming with rage: the value of the tobacco that has been seized and destroyed amounts to EUR 700,000 - and the criminals now face steep fines, as they had attempted to evade taxes and duties totalling some EUR 340,000.