Almost five million cigarettes seized in police operation targeting loyalist paramilitaries
ALMOST five million cigarettes have been seized in a major police operation targeting loyalist paramilitaries.
Around 695kg (109 stone) of hand-rolling tobacco was also recovered during searches in Banbridge, Carryduff and Ballyclare on Friday.
Police estimate the tobacco products recovered represent a potential revenue loss of almost £2 million.
The cigarettes were a mixture of counterfeit and real products.
While police said the operation was targeting loyalist paramilitaries, it is believed that the goods were also intended for distribution across republican groupings.
The PSNI's Paramilitary Crime Task Force carried out searches of five commercial premises, one retail premises and one residential address with designer clothing, fireworks and perfume also recovered.
A sum of £21,640 in cash was also seized.
A 56-year-old man from the Banbridge area was arrested and interviewed by police. He was later released pending further investigation.
PSNI detective superintendent Bobby Singleton said it was a "really significant seizure for the Paramilitary Crime Task Force and a significant blow to the organised criminals behind it".
"The focus of our investigation in this particular case was individuals with links to loyalist paramilitaries," he said.
"But it is our belief that these cigarettes and counterfeit goods would have been distributed across Northern Ireland and potentially across paramilitary groups."
Steve Tracey from HM Revenue and Customs said: "Working together in partnership with other enforcement colleagues we can target the criminal gangs stealing from the taxpayer, robbing public services and undermining legitimate, honest traders".