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Switzerland is cigarette smugglers’ haven, says official

Tougher measures are needed to combat cigarette smuggling Keystone

A senior Swiss government official has admitted that Switzerland is a cigarette trafficker's "paradise".

In an interview on the television programme “Rundschau”, Dieter Grossen, vice-director of the Federal Aliens Office, claimed existing legislation was not strong enough to combat the problem. Tougher measures were needed to stop traffickers exploiting legal loopholes, he said.

Grossen also called on cantonal authorities to be more vigilant about new businesses being set up in Switzerland that might be used as a front for cigarette smuggling operations.

According to the programme, several Swiss-based cigarette smugglers are involved in operations stretching from Montenegro to European Union countries, costing governments billions in lost revenue.

Grossen’s comments come a year after the Swiss federal prosecutor, Valentin Roschacher, criticised the fact that cigarette smuggling was not treated as a crime under the Swiss penal code.

Customs violation

Cigarette smuggling is treated as a customs violation rather than a crime, which means that the Swiss authorities cannot comply with most requests for judicial assistance from other countries.

Switzerland’s failure to tackle the problem has proved a major bone of contention with the European Union which has threatened to stall moves towards closer bilateral ties unless the Swiss clamp down on contraband cigarettes.

The issue came to the fore over the high-profile case of the suspected Mafia boss, Gerardo Cuomo, who was wanted by the Italian authorities for cigarette smuggling.

A Swiss court ruled that Cuomo, who ran a tobacco import-export business in Lugano, could not be handed over under Swiss law. The case led to a diplomatic row between Bern and Rome, with Switzerland being accused of “sheltering” Cuomo.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR