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Mounties seize 27 tonnes of illegal cigarettes in B.C. busts valued at $24M

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Federal investigators have seized 27 tonnes of contraband cigarettes in British Columbia, the culmination of a year-long enforcement program targeting organized crime, the Mounties announced Friday.

The cigarettes were seized in two separate busts, netting 133,000 cartons with a total estimated retail value of $24 million, according to police.

The most recent seizure was on Feb. 28, when investigators raided four properties in Maple Ridge and Mission and seized 67,500 cartons, representing the largest one-time seizure of contraband cigarettes in the province.

Two people were arrested and police also seized 70 pounds of silver and $100,000 cash, assistant commissioner David Teboul of the RCMP's federal policing program announced in a news conference Friday alongside B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.

The RCMP's federal serious and organized crime unit opened the investigation into contraband tobacco sales in the fall of 2023, leading to the discovery of multiple suspected storage and distribution facilities, police said.

The investigation followed seizures last year of more than 66,000 cartons of illegal cigarettes, valued at an estimated $12 million. Police say that began in Nanaimo but quickly expanded to include multiple sites in Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Edmonton.

"The organized crime network involved in this contraband tobacco trafficking operation was also suspected of being linked to cross-border cocaine smuggling and money laundering activities," federal RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Arash Seyed said in a news release.

Most organized crime groups that deal in contraband tobacco also traffic narcotics, using the "same drug pipelines for their movement," Teboul added.

The seizures follow an announcement last month that B.C.'s anti-gang task force, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, had arrested four people and seized 35 pallets of contraband cigarettes during a separate investigation.

The CFSEU case involved searches of properties in Surrey, Victoria, Abbotsford and Langley, where contraband liquor, guns, drugs, eight vehicles and a speedboat were also seized.

The agency estimated the retail value of the earlier cigarette seizure at approximately $11 million.

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