Europe is being flooded by smuggled Russian-made cigarettes worth at least $1 billion a year, an international investigation has discovered.
A network of factories and routes has been put together across Europe since 2004, following large-scale smuggling routes previously supplied by major multinational tobacco companies. The new underground smoking trade involves only one brand, Jin Ling, which is turning up in more cities and countries across Europe every month.
Jin Ling, virtually unknown to the authorities three years ago, has grown so rapidly that law enforcement officials say it now rivals Marlboro as the top smuggled brand being seized in the European Union.
The organization behind this fast expanding black market, the Baltic Tobacco Factory (BTF) of Kaliningrad, Russia, has links to two of the world’s largest tobacco companies. Its factory network in Russia and Ukraine was previously owned and run by subsidiaries of Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Group, the world’s number three producer.
The investigation has identified a network of Russian and East European companies, including 5 factories believed to play roles in manufacturing the contraband cigarettes being smuggled to the West. The Russian-run factory network now claims to be able to produce more than 24 billion cigarettes annually. This would be equivalent to 7 percent of legal EU cigarette imports.
Originally imported from China, Jin Ling features a king-size packet design that closely resembles the legal Camel brand in color, typestyle, and layout. Instead of a camel, the packs are illustrated with a mountain goat.
Jin Ling cigarettes have no legal market in any European country, according to customs officials. The brand is never advertised and cannot be bought in shops. It is only sold illegally — smuggled by gangs who hope to pocket immense profits by selling unlicensed, untaxed cigarettes on black markets across Europe.