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CIGGIE BUYERS ARE SEARCHED; Swoop on smugglers' customers.

CUSTOMS swooped on traders AND customers yesterday in a new drive to smash Scotland's bootleg tobacco trade.

Some 75,000 cigarettes and 35 kilos of tobacco were seized during the "knock" raid in Bathgate, West Lothian, as 26 undercover agents searched vans, bags and even prams.

The haul was worth pounds 24,000 in the shops and represented a pounds 15,000 loss of tax.

Officers handed out leaflets explaining that the illicit racket props up one fifth of underworld crime groups and cost the taxpayer pounds 2billion last year.

They warned that those supporting the shady trade could have their goods and cars confiscated.

A Ford Orion and Vauxhall Cavalier were seized and two men aged 23 and 36 were quizzed by officers last night when 15,000 cigarettes and 11 kilos of tobacco were found in a nearby estate.

The successful raid is to be repeated at Glasgow's Barras market and across the UK. Customs and Excise spokesman Ron Barrie said: "This is the first time Scots customers have been targeted.

"If smugglers have no one to sell to they won't be able to sell at all."

The Government ploughed an extra pounds 209million into tackling tobacco smuggling in the last budget.

An extra 1000 Customs officers were employed after it was found a fifth of all cigarettes smoked in Britain have been smuggled into the country.

The Bathgate market bootleggers have been selling cigarettes at almost pounds 2 off the shop price of 20.

Around 100,000 cigarettes are sold on makeshift stalls each day, with demand increasing around Christmas.

A total of 275,000 cigarettes and 160 kilos of tobacco have been seized from Bathgate since January and 10 vehicles have been confiscated.

Yesterday, angry shoppers hit out at the invasion of officers and police were called in as one clash became heated.

But legal smoker Annette Smith, 62, said: "Buying smuggled cigarettes is flouting the law and it is unfair to people who are trying to run legitimate businesses."
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Author:Mathieson, Jack
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 7, 2000
Words:334
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