More should be done to catch fag and baccy smugglers, say MPs
Customs officers should be doing more to stop the smuggling of cheap cigarettes and tobacco into the country through Dover, according to MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee said the implementation of new initiatives to tackle problem, which costs the government £1.9 billion a year, had been "painfully slow".
MPs have also criticised tobacco manufacturers for failing to co-operate in tackling smuggling.
It had been predicted that new measures to stop the trade would cut losses by £900 million by 2015. But the committee report revealed that three of the five initiatives had produced nothing by March 2013.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, said Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) needed to do more to challenge UK tobacco manufacturers who turned a blind eye to the avoidance of UK tax.
“The supply of some brands of hand-rolling tobacco to some countries in 2011 exceeded legitimate demand by 240 per cent," she said.
"HMRC must be more assertive with these manufacturers. So far it has not fined a single one of them.”
Although there had been a "significant reduction" in smuggling in the 10 years up to 2011, the committee said some of the money which HMRC had been planning to use for new initiatives had been used to fund six overseas intelligence officers already in post.
“HMRC appears to have used some of the funding from the 2010 Spending Review, earmarked for investment in new initiatives to tackle tobacco smuggling, for business-as-usual funding of its tobacco strategy”, the report said.
Customs officers at Dover have seized millions of cigarettes and packets of tobaccos over the years as smugglers use more sophisticated methods to conceal their illegal goods.
Offenders are prosecuted, and frequently jailed, and the confiscated goods are destroyed.
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