B.C. police seize $11M worth of contraband cigarettes along with guns, drugs

Largest one-time seizure of contraband cigarettes in the province.
Contraband in red

Police in British Columbia say an investigation spanning several communities has led to the largest one-time seizure of contraband cigarettes in the province, with a retail value of $11 million, along with guns, ammunition and illegal drugs.

A statement from the Combined Special Enforcement Unit says it received information last August prompting the investigation that expanded throughout B.C.'s Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.

It says suspects were connected to "gangs and organized crime" and police executed seven search warrants over two days in late January.

The statement says the searches in Langley, Abbotsford, Surrey and Victoria resulted in the seizure of 35 pallets of contraband cigarettes worth $11 million, as well as 32 guns, including handguns, assault rifles and shotguns. 

Sgt. Brenda Winpenny says the tobacco seizure is the largest of its kind in B.C.

Police say four suspects were arrested and "released pending the judicial process."

The police statement does not indicate whether the suspects have been charged.

The statement issued Tuesday says police also seized 10 pallets of contraband liquor, half a kilogram of cocaine, 80 kilograms of marijuana, a cocaine press, a speed boat and eight vehicles, including a stolen Porsche SUV.

Kory McDonald, head of external affairs, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. (RBH), issued the following statement today in response to the CFSU-BC seizure of $11 million of contraband tobacco on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland in British Columbia:

"Firstly, on behalf of RBH, I applaud the work of the CFSU-BC and its partner agencies on this historic action against contraband tobacco. Today's seizure of cocaine, guns, ammunition, eight vehicles, drug paraphernalia and a speedboat is yet more evidence that contraband tobacco is not a victimless crime. Organized crime directly benefits from contraband with profits helping fund gun, drug and human trafficking. Criminals are not checking ID when selling contraband tobacco, making it more likely tobacco will fall in the hands of kids and youth.

"Over three in ten cigarettes sold in British Columbia are illegal, according to a recent report by Ernst and Young and the Convenience Industry Council of Canada. The same report indicates between 2019 and 2022, British Columbia lost as much as $591 million in tax revenue due to the growing contraband market.

"Illicit cigarettes are a threat to both public finances and community safety. Industry, retailers, the federal and provincial governments across the country need to work together to reduce the demand for contraband tobacco and increase enforcement efforts. Only then will we be able to reduce organized crime and keep our communities safe."

With additional files from Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. (RBH)

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