Smuggled cigarettes accounted for half of the total amount sold in Bulgaria, Bulgarian mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa has claimed, citing unnamed sources in the tobacco industry.
The daily cited excise figures, which said that duties were paid on 17.2 billion cigarettes in 2009, while actual imports stood at 22.5 billion. Smuggling cost Bulgaria about 600 million leva in lost revenue from unpaid excise duties every year.
The daily quoted unnamed industry sources saying that the increase in the cigarette smuggling was caused by the increase in the excise duty, which rose from 53 euro for 1000 cigarettes to 76 euro for 1000 cigarettes in January.
The change has not taken effect for most brands yet because the quantities with the old excise stamp have not been exhausted, but the higher prices were expected to hit the market in March. The most popular domestic brand, Victory, is expected to rise from 3.60 leva to 4.60 leva.
The newspaper forecast that the trend recorded in December 2009 and January 2010, when excise duties declined by 12 per cent, would continue, though not because Bulgarians quit smoking, but because of further increase in smuggling.
Bulgarian authorities seized a container with about 10 million Bulgarian cigarettes on February 16, which were legally exported and were then to be smuggled back into the country through the port of Varna.
According to the daily, one of the main smuggling routes passed through the port of Mersin in southern Turkey, from where the cigarettes were brought back into Bulgaria in containers by sea using false papers and with bribes to the ship's crew, customs and police officers. Over land, the borders with Serbia and Turkey saw the highest amount of smuggling, 24 Chassa said.
Although Bulgarian cigarette-makers have often complained about the Government's inaction in stopping smuggling, but according to Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov, some Bulgarian producers dabbled in it themselves.
Bulgaria's Customs Agency, which collects the excise duties, started a check of all warehouses to investigate possible discrepancies and should any be found, heavy fines would be imposed, Dyankov was quoted as saying.