It’s the largest illegal cigarette bust in recent memory in Nova Scotia.
RCMP officers seized 299 cases of contraband smokes at a residence on Highway 7 in the Smith Settlement area of the HRM on Wednesday.
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“RCMP received information on suspicious activity in the area, completed surveillance of a residence and discovered two vehicles, a rental truck and an 18-wheeler on the property which had illegal tobacco in them,” said RCMP Insp. Brian Brennan at a press conference Thursday morning.
Two men were arrested – a 43-year-old local man was nabbed along with a 45-year-old Montreal man – and will face several charges.
The retail value of this bust is $1.2 million.
Such a large-scale operation, with cigarettes fed from central Canada, leads investigators to believe it is connected to organized crime.
Brennan said investigators are still trying to figure out which organized crime group is involved.
“Illicit tobacco shouldn’t be looked upon by the general public in any different way than drug trafficking,” he said. “It’s the fact that organized crime is behind this, so whether you buy a quantity of drugs or illicit tobacco, you’re funding organized crime.”
These groups are diversifying into illegal tobacco as well as the drug trade, he added. Seizures have nearly doubled every year in the past three years in the province.
“It’s hard to say what we’re not getting, but conservatively, I would say it’s two or three times higher than that, based on the information we get coming in from our intelligence sources,” Brennan said. “There’s a high volume of it here.”
Officers confiscated the cigarettes before they made it to the lowest-level distributors, who tend to sell them from their houses or legitimate businesses.
If convicted, the two men could face incarceration, but more likely a fine based on the number of cigarettes seized.
“For organized crime groups that have large networks and have the monetary ability to be involved in this illicit activity, the monetary fines are really a cost of doing business for them.”