Press Release: The Department of Customs continues to intensify its fight against activity in contraband cigarettes

One of the principles that makes a State truly sovereign is Government's prowess to determine taxes payable by the people and to have the efficient mechanism in place to enable such taxes to be collected promptly and in their entirety.  Consequently, any type of contraband, including that of cigarettes and tobacco products, is considered as a direct attack of Government's ability to collect taxes dues.  It also follows that such illicit activity is, indirectly, expressly attacking the State's sovereignty.

Against this background, as a priority, Customs Department incessantly exerts its efforts in combating the importation, supply and consumption of contraband cigarettes since such illegal activities drastically affect the country in various negative ways.  During these last recent years, the Customs Department, notwithstanding the aggressive enforcement campaign, was also seriously taking stock of the whole detrimental situation.

From these analyses, it clearly transpired that the actual deterrent effect on those who break the law was rather ineffective.  In fact, it was not in the least discouraging the contrabandists from taking the risk of supplying such cigarettes.  Proof of this was the fact that Customs Department frequently encountered repetitive cases.

Thus, this anomalous situation in the various segments throughout the country had to be dealt with in such a manner where it would address the demand side as well as the supply side.  This meant that Customs Department had no other alternative but to proceed in the same manner both against those who import and sell such cigarettes, as well as against those who consume them.

For this reason, last year, the law addressing the evasion of excise duty was effectively amended in this regard.

The increase of such penalties is definitely not of a cosmetic nature.  In fact

·         Out-of-court minimum settlements increased from €250 to a minimum of €1,500;

·         Court penalties increased from €500 to a minimum of €3,500, in the case of seizure, whilst, in the case of  evasion, this increased from €600 to a minimum of €4,000; and

·    The highest Court penalty was increased to a maximum of €25,000.

Apart from this deterrent, Customs and Police authorities have increased their enforcement measures by enhancing their resources.

Customs Department could have gone beyond the indicated measures; however, it was felt that currently this suffices to effectively send an explicit message.  Those who risk in persisting to breach the law,  immediately discover that the law has become much harsher and more forceful.  The decent citizen, who pays all the taxes due, merits full protection from the authorities.

In the meantime, in the coming weeks, the Department of Customs, will be embarking on an awareness campaign to allow everyone to be well informed about this new deterrent.  The campaign will:

·        include all possible media sources;
·        cover all areas around Malta and Gozo;
·       utilise the services of Local Councils, Police Stations, commercial banks, Post Offices and district offices of Job Plus;
·        cover open markets and industrial zones; and
·       provide information to every household, government offices, organizations and Societies, clubs, shops and entertainment outlets.

This campaign will make use of 5,000 posters, 300,000 leaflets and 80,000 stickers.  Customs employees will be visiting 17 open markets and industrial zones to explain to the people what lies behind this campaign.  Naturally, the facilities provided by the social media and radio stations will also be tapped.

Once again, Customs Department reiterates that contraband activity is a very serious criminal act which, once found guilty by the Law Courts, a person incurs heavy fiscal punishments, confiscation of the vehicle involved in the transportation of the contraband goods and of the storage means, and, in addition, even the consideration of imprisonment.

The Department of Customs continues to invite the public to cooperate by phoning in an anonymous manner on telephone numbers 2568 5124 and 2568 5200.