28,260 cigarettes and 19.9 kilograms of hand-rolling tobacco (HRT) have been seized following searches of 11 shops in the Derry city area yesterday.
Other counterfeit goods and mobile phones were also seized.
The PSNI supported HMRC officers during the operation which was targeted at the supply of illicit tobacco products to local shops by INLA.
A 65-years-old male was arrested on suspicion of fraudulent evasion of excise duty in respect of 10,280 illicit cigarettes and 14.45 kilograms of illicit tobacco seized from one of the shops in the Galliagh area.
Detective Inspector Tom McClure of the PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit commented: “The INLA in Derry/Londonderry use brutality, threats and fear to exert control and, behind the scenes, are involved in a wide range of criminal money-making ‘rackets’ to line their own pockets.
“One strand of their criminality is the importation and supply of illicit cigarettes into the North West and these illegal products are then distributed via a network of local shops and suppliers.
“For this reason we requested assistance from our partners in HMRC for this particular operation,” added Det. Inspector McClure.
“I am very concerned that seven of the 11 shops visited were found to have illicit cigarettes on their premises, meaning that these illegal products have been found in a total of 17 different shops in the Derry/Londonderry and Strabane areas since the start of December.”
Inspector McClure also warned retailers who knowingly purchase illicit cigarettes, that they may be indirectly funding terrorism.
“Retailers who stock and sell illicit cigarettes should think carefully about the potential implications upon conviction. They and their customers who knowingly purchase illicit cigarettes, should be aware that they may be indirectly funding INLA terrorism and criminality which brings harm to local communities, for their own selfish gains.
“We are committed to tackling the criminality associated with paramilitarism and these seizures follow on from a successful operation back in December when approximately 36,000 illicit cigarettes and five kilograms of illicit tobacco were removed from eight shops in Derry/Londonderry and two shops in Strabane.
“I know that the communities most affected by the misery inflicted by paramilitaries support our ongoing efforts and I’d like to thank them for their support. I would also appeal for anyone with information regarding this type of criminal activity to contact police on 101.
Alternatively, information can also be provided to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 which is 100% anonymous and gives people the power to speak up and stop crime.”