Cyprus police are making headway in the fight against the sale of illegal tobacco, with officials hoping a man's dramatic arrest over the weekend could help catch bigger fish and rein in the sale of untaxed cigarettes.
A 57-year-old Greek Cypriot male was arrested on Friday in Limassol, after unmarked police vehicles staked out highway exits outside the southern town to block his truck along the Nicosia-Limassol motorway.
After undercover officers placed flashing strobes and sirens on their cars, they started chasing the suspect’s vehicle but he failed to stop. Police said the truck changed directions and moved erratically through a built-up area before getting on a northbound bypass.
Local media said police fired warning shots on the bypass with officers then shooting at the truck’s tires after the man initially failed to stop. He then to run away on foot but injured his head as officers closed in on him according to police.
“It was a self-inflicted head injury as he tried to step out of the vehicle and run,” a police communications officer told Knews Monday morning.
The suspect, described as a Limassol resident, was rushed to the Emergency Room at Limassol General Hospital where he was treated for his wounds. He was placed under arrest and later remanded in custody for eight days with a police officer assigned to him for security.
Earlier CID Limassol official Lefteris Kyriacou said police had received information that “a person of interest was spotted in the area of Dhekelia in a vehicle moving towards Limassol with a large quantity of tobacco products in his possession.”
Police who searched the suspect’s vehicle reportedly found and confiscated 405 cases of rolling tobacco, 240 cases of cigarettes, hookah smoke (narghile) in 48 metal containers, 7 boxes of tobacco, 4 cylinders with refrigerant gas, and €22,000 in cash.
Media reports said the number of illicit cigarettes originating from within EU borders and moving between European countries has increased in recent years
The supplier of the untaxed tobacco products remained unknown but police officials said they suspected the goods may have been received from the northern part of the island.
Customs officials are also taking part in the investigation while two days earlier another police operation uncovered 48 cases of cigarettes and 2 cases of tobacco without proper labeling. The case took place also in Limassol where a total fine of €4000 was paid by another suspect.
Tobacco smuggling has reportedly caused heavy yearly losses to the budgets of EU members in lost customs duties and taxes, with seizures often appearing to be a drop in the ocean compared with the scale of the illegal tobacco trade.
Police did not make clear whether the tobacco products found in the suspect’s vehicle had proper markings.
Media reports said the number of illicit cigarettes originating from within EU borders and moving between European countries has increased in recent years.