ROCK OF CONTENTION

Gibraltar tobacco smuggling cost EU €700m in tax revenue over four years

Spain begins judicial investigation into contraband at OLAF anti-fraud office’s recommendation

Two people carry contraband tobacco from Gibraltar to Spain in August 2013.
Two people carry contraband tobacco from Gibraltar to Spain in August 2013.M. M. / AFP

Tobacco smuggling in Gibraltar between 2010 and 2013 deprived finance ministries across the European Union of an estimated €700 million in tax revenue, according to a report by the EU’s anti-fraud office, OLAF, sent to the governments of Spain and the United Kingdom. The 400-page OLAF report names specific companies involved in cigarette and tobacco smuggling in the British Overseas Territory, as well as money laundering.

Spain’s High Court opened legal information proceedings into the issue on Wednesday, with a view to undertaking a full judicial investigation.

Around 60 percent of all tobacco seized by the Spanish authorities takes place at the border crossing between Gibraltar and Spain – more than 10 million packets in 2013 – although the majority of it is in small quantities. In December 2012 Spanish police confiscated just under half a million packets of cigarettes that had been smuggled into Algeciras port in containers

Around 60% of all tobacco seized by the Spanish authorities takes place at the Gibraltar border

Spain’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticized the Gibraltarian authorities of failing to tackle tobacco imports.

Meanwhile, the Spanish agriculture ministry has reported Gibraltar to the European Commission, accusing the authorities there of allowing recreational fishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a protected species that can only be caught between June 15 and July 9 under Spanish law. Civil Guard coastguards say they detected a yacht fishing in the western end of the Bay of Algeciras over the weekend of August 8-10. They attempted to intercept it, but were prevented from doing so by the presence of Royal Navy and Gibraltarian police vessels.

Spain and Gibraltar have been at loggerheads over the issues of smuggling and fishing over the last year, with the Spanish authorities carrying out exhaustive border checks that have created long delays at the crossing. The Gibraltarian authorities have complained about the measures to Brussels, which has sent inspectors to the area.

More information