Customs authorities worldwide reported 26,220 cases of excise goods smuggling in 2018, involving 31,150 seizures of alcohol, cigarettes and other tobacco products spanning 94 countries, a 98.7% increase over the total for 2017, according to a new report from the World Customs Organization (WCO).
In both 2017 and 2018, Saudi Arabia reported the greatest number of alcohol and tobacco product seizures, said the WCO’s “Illicit Trade Report 2018,” released this month.
The 31,150 seizures of excise goods reported in 2018 are broken down into four components: cigarettes, alcohol products, tobacco products and cigars and e-cigarettes.
Customs authorities reported that cigarettes accounted for 56.5% of all excise goods seizures in 2018. The various combinations of alcohol products came second with 29.1% of all seizures of excise goods. Although the smallest category, cigar and e-cigarette seizures increased from 1.9% to 4.1% of the total number of seizures between 2017 and 2018.
For tobacco products, the report said routine control was the most effective detection method for excise goods in 2018, accounting for 72.98% of all cases. Risk profiling was the second most effective. There were 6,506 cases detected by risk profiling in 2018, nearly double that of the 3,505 cases detected through this method in 2017.
In both 2017 and 2018, Saudi Arabia reported by far the most cases in 2017 (3,625) and continued to lead in 2018, increasing its cases by 289.3%, reaching a total of 14,112. Italy reported the second greatest number of cases of tobacco products in 2018. Meanwhile, the UAE reported a significant decrease in cases in 2018.
Overall, the total number of tobacco product cases reported in 2018 increased by 14,415 (or 104.76%) from 2017 to 2018.
WCO data further demonstrated that while the number of seizures increased, the number of pieces seized actually decreased in 2018 from the year previously. Cigarettes seizures increased 135.34% from 2017 to 2018, growing from 7,481 to 17,606; however, the number of pieces seized decreased from 2.418 billion in 2017 to 1.959 billion last year, representing a reduction of 18.9%.
Meanwhile, seizures of both e-cigarettes and cigars increased in 2018. In 2017, 18 seizures of cigars were reported; in 2018, this amount more than doubled with 59 seizures reported. Seizures of e-cigarettes increased 340% between 2017 and 2018, rising from 277 in 2017 to 1,219 in 2018. The number of pieces of e-cigarettes and cartridges also increased in 2018, although somewhat more modestly (6.7%). By contrast, the number of seized cigars and cheroots decreased by 63.7% from 2017 to 2018.
For the category other tobacco products there were 3,213 seizures in 2018, up 20.9% from 2,656 in 2017. But there was only a 1.9% increase in the quantity of tobacco products seized.
Data also showed that most tobacco product seizures were from vehicles, although the conveyance method accounting for the greatest number of pieces was vessels.
In total, 1.865 million kilograms of tobacco products were seized in 2018, with cigarette products representing 15% of this weight, smoking tobacco amounting to 35% and raw tobacco constituting 23%.
Confiscations of tobacco products last year overwhelmingly occurred at import. Of the 14,112 cases reported by Saudi Arabia, 14,084 (99.8%) involved imports.
By reporting region, South America was responsible for the greatest number of pieces seized (as opposed to the greatest number of seizures) in 2017, while Western Europe claimed a plurality of pieces seized (46.1%) in 2018.
Finally, countries from Eastern and Central Europe reported the greatest weight of tobacco products seized (801,622 kilograms), an amount representing 42.9% of the total quantity seized in 2018.
On alcohol seizures, Saudi Arabia and Ireland reported far more alcohol seizures than any other country. Saudi Arabia continues to report the greatest number of cases of alcohol product trafficking, with the number growing by 35%, from 2,533 in 2017 to 3,420 in 2018.
Comparing 2017 and 2018, there were 5,239 reported seizures in 2017 and 9,053 reported seizures in 2018. Beer was the alcohol product most often seized in 2017 and 2018, comprising 30.9% of seizures (1,620) in 2017 and 24.8% of seizures (2,253) in 2018.
In 2018, wine saw the largest number of liters seized. Despite an increasing number of beer seizures, the quantity of beer seized declined from 2.702 million liters in 2017 to 1.173 million liters in 2018 (a 56.5% decrease).
Wine seizures, however, which comprised 7.4% of alcohol seizures (389 of 5,239) and 2.8% of liters of alcohol seized in 2017, increased dramatically, making up 18.3% of alcohol seizures and 39% of liters seized in 2018.
In 2018 most alcohol products were seized while being conveyed on vehicles or while moving by air. Of the 9,053 reported seizures of alcohol products, 64% involved vehicles (mostly cars and passenger vans) and 25.6% implicated air transport options. In many cases, alcohol was concealed in or under seats, in the load-transport area or in the trunk of the car. In 33% of all cases, alcohol was carried in baggage.
The greatest quantity of alcohol products, however, were seized from vessels. Of the 5.118 million liters of alcohol seized in 2018, about 41.1% were conveyed by vessel. Of these seizures involving vessels, wine was the product recovered in the greatest quantity.
The majority of goods were reported as imports to their destination countries. Goods seized on import comprised 91.8% (5,928 of the 6,453) of cases made in the top 15 reporting countries.
WCO said that there were 9,053 seizures from 54 countries in 2018. Of these seizures, beer accounted for 2,253 instances across all the countries considered, and it was the alcohol produce seized in 1,304 instances in Saudi Arabia alone.
Alcohol product seizures went from 5,239 to 9,049 between 2017 and 2018, increasing by 72.7%. In both years, countries in the Middle East reported more alcohol products seizures than any other region, accounting for 61.4% of the total in 2017 and 47% of the total in 2018.
In total, 9.119 million liters of alcohol were seized in 2017 and 2018.
While countries in Western Europe reported seizing the most liters of alcohol in 2017; in 2018, countries in the Middle East reported seizing the most.
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