BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Dec. 21, 2017–Guatemalan authorities have made a significant bust in a cigarette contraband ring with deep roots inside Belize.
According to Guatevision.com, “the Public Ministry and the National Civil Police in Guatemala conducted 35 raids to dismantle a criminal structure dedicated to the smuggling of cigarettes.” According to the article, the raids were coordinated by the Economic Crimes Prosecutor’s Office in the departments of Izabal, Chiquimula, Quiché and Petén.
Guatevision.com further reported that authorities began to monitor a criminal ring that bought cigarettes in our country then moved them to Guatemala. No tax or duty was ever paid on these cigarettes that, according to Guatemalan authorities, did not meet import requirements. The cigarettes were reportedly inferior and contained fungi and mold, which could jeopardize the health of consumers.
Investigations revealed that from 2015 to 2016 these smugglers made at least 39 trips to Belize, by boat, and transported as many as 500 boxes of cigarettes, or 5 million individual cigarettes, on each trip.
Guatevision.com explained how the smuggling operation is carried out. Guatemalans who illegally sell cigarettes would make contact with the head of the criminal structure, requesting the product. The head of the operation would then contact his Belizean counterparts, who would then supply the product and deliver it into Guatemala.
Those transporting the cigarettes were reportedly aware of the operations of naval patrols and so the success of the transfer was guaranteed. Often by night via the sea, the smuggled goods entered Guatemala. After that, they were transported to the departments of Izabal and Chiquimula, by land, to be delivered to the buyers.
Guatemalan authorities have since captured 24 persons involved in this cigarette ring. Five of those persons accused of smuggling, conspiracy, and money laundering, were members of the naval force.
The Ministry of National Defense in Guatemala has not yet issued an official comment on this incident and neither have Belizean authorities, who declined comment during a police press conference this morning.