Farmers and brokers in southwestern Ontario’s tobacco sector are among nine people arrested for alleged roles in a black-market network for domestic tobacco.
RCMP at London, Ont. on Friday reported the arrests, along with six executed search warrants and seizures of tobacco, equipment and street drugs, wrapping up a week of “numerous” operations in the region, targeting “various groups that were allegedly involved in the production and distribution of illegal tobacco.”
The investigations, RCMP said in a release, began after the Mounties were informed “several” southwestern Ontario tobacco growers were allegedly involved in “producing more tobacco than they were legally allowed and selling the additional tobacco through the ‘black market.'”
As the probe went on, RCMP said, “it was determined that various growers and brokers were involved in the illegal sale of large amounts of raw leaf tobacco as well as finished tobacco products.”
Further charges and arrests are expected, RCMP spokesman Sgt. Richard Rollings said Friday.
RCMP aren’t yet naming any of those who have already been arrested, charged and released for later court dates, but Rollings said the list includes some “legitimate tobacco growers… (and) some legitimate tobacco brokers.”
Seizures related to the probe include “large amounts” of raw leaf tobacco, valued at over $300,000, including a tractor-trailer load by itself valued at between $200,000 and $300,000 — plus individual paletts of tobacco worth an estimated $2,500 to $3,500 each at black-market values, he said.
The tobacco alone, if processed into cigarettes, would have been worth up to $9 million on the black market, and if sold in cigarette form it would have cost the Ontario and federal governments $3.5 million in tax revenue, he said.
Also seized were six trucks and a tractor, car, boat, snowmobile and motorcycle, plus $85,000 cash, 45 shotguns, over 60 kg of marijuana, 950 marijuana plants, two bricks of hashish and “small amounts” of cocaine, ketamine and MDMA (ecstasy), RCMP said.
Rollings described the probe to date as the largest project of its kind in which the RCMP “D” division has been involved in which the tobacco was Canadian-grown.
Tobacco production and distribution in Canada remains a “highly regulated” industry, in which growers must register with the province and follow rules governing the amount of tobacco they can produce and distribute.
Also, RCMP Supt. Jamie Jagoe said in Friday’s release, “contraband tobacco introduces criminal activity directly into our communities and supports the growth of an underground economy that poses a serious threat to public safety.”
Profits from black-market tobacco, he added, “are often used to fund other illegal activities, such as the movement of drugs, weapons and money-laundering operations.” — AGCanada.com Network