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Federal RCMP seize 27 tonnes of contraband cigarettes in B.C.

Police say the investigation has led to dismantling criminal networks
Assistant Commissioner David Teboul, the Pacific Regional Commander of the federal RCMP, speaks during a news conference at BC RCMP headquarters in Surrey on March 8, 2024. Police announced the seizure of 27 tonnes of contraband cigarettes. (Lauren Collins)

Federal RCMP investigators say that a contraband tobacco investigation has net 27 tonnes of seized contraband cigarettes and a “dismantling” of the criminal network involved in the illicit distribution.

Police unveiled just a fraction – about two pallets worth – of the seizure during a press conference at BC RCMP headquarters in Surrey on Friday (March 8). In total, 45 pallets of illicit tobacco were seized from various locations in Mission and Maple Ridge.

Assistant Commissioner David Teboul, the Pacific Regional Commander of the federal RCMP, said that in addition to the 67,500 cartons of cigarettes, officers also seized 70 pounds of silver. and $100,000 dollars in cash. The cigarette had a retail value of more than $12 million.

He added that federal police conducted a series of other investigations, which resulted in an additional 66,000 cartons of cigarettes, worth $11.9 million.

Corp. Arash Seyed, federal media relation officer, said the federal RCMP had conducted two separate investigations in the last year into the trafficking of illicit tobacco. The investigation started in the fall of 2023.

Taboul said the investigations are ongoing.

In Canada, it is illegal to sell illicit cigarettes not approved by Health Canada, thus not having the regulated stamps or markings and warning labels. It is also illegal to sell cigarettes without a valid tobacco retail dealer’s permit belonging to the owner of the tobacco product for each location that tobacco products are sold.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said this seizure is not just about taking illicit tobacco off the streets and “impeding the work of organized crime and gangs.”

“It also represents a … significant blow to small retailers in our province. Convenience stores, corner stores that depend on the sale of legal tobacco as part of their business.”

This was the largest one-time seizure of contraband cigarettes in the province, but it comes just three weeks after the then-largest one-time seizure of contraband cigarettes in B.C.

“[It’s] a huge blow to organized crime in B.C.,” Farnworth said.

In February, B.C.’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit announced a similar investigation that led to four suspects being arrested and involved search warrants across Langley, Abbotsford, Surrey and Victoria.

Seizures included: 10 pallets of contraband liquor, 35 pallets of contraband cigarettes – with a retail value of $11 million – cocaine and drug paraphernalia, 32 firearms, a speedboat and eight vehicles.

Seyed said that a similar but unrelated investigation, which started in the fall of 2021, led to a number of arrests and seizures in the spring and summer of 2023. In that, 10 people were arrested and more than 66,000 cartons of contraband cigarettes were seized. That had a retail value of $11.94 million.

The investigation began in Nanaimo, but expanded to Vancouver, Langley, Abbotsford, Cobble Hill and Edmonton.

That investigation was also linked to cross-border cocaine smuggling and money laundering. There was a joint investigation by the RCMP and the FBI into that in 2020.

READ MORE: Police arrest 8 from B.C. based ‘organized crime group’

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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