Montenegro plans to fill its budget by selling confiscated tobacco

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Montenegrin Finance Minister Aleksandar Damjanovic (middle) during the government session in Podgorica. Photo: Government of Montenegro

Montenegro’s Finance Minister Aleksandar Damjanovic said on Friday that Montenegro could earn up to 20 million euros by selling confiscated tobacco.

Damjanovic said his ministry will soon propose a law to take back confiscated tobacco products from the port of Bar, which has become notorious as a cigarette smuggling hub.

“As part of the proposed law, we will establish deadlines for taking back tobacco products and offers to former owners. If they don’t take it back and take it out of Montenegro, we could hold a public auction,” Damjanovic said during the government session.

“Thus, the state could earn between 15 and 20 million euros,” he added.

Since the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Bar has become a known center for cigarette smuggling, from where imported tobacco is re-exported and cigarettes made in Montenegro are shipped.

According to official data, 21 of the 26 companies with storage in Bar store tobacco. Last July, the government announced new measures to prohibit the storage of tobacco in Bar as part of measures to prevent tobacco and cigarette smuggling.

On May 14, Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic visited the port when 145,000 packets of tobacco were seized, announcing that the government intended to establish a legal method to sell the confiscated cigarettes and thus inject the money in the budget.

But on June 16, British Ambassador to Montenegro Karen Maddocks said confiscated tobacco should be destroyed and not sold, calling on authorities to improve investigations into tobacco smuggling.

“We recently shared UK best practice with the Montenegrin government on what to do with seized goods in a way that is in line with international protocols – which is to destroy such goods, due to concerns about their quality, health standards and intellectual property rights,” Maddocks said.

Montenegro’s Customs Law states that confiscated goods can be sold at public auction, but if they cannot be sold for safety or health reasons, they must be destroyed. So far, Montenegrin authorities have destroyed smuggled tobacco at the KAP aluminum plant in Podgorica.

Montenegrin customs recently seized 3.5 million euros worth of tobacco in Bar, while on 10 February the customs office reported that tobacco worth more than 10 million euros had been stolen from port hangars since December 2021.

Police arrested three people, including customs officers, on suspicion of smuggling 11,349 boxes of cigarettes out of the port.

On March 2, then-customs office manager Milena Petricevic reported a theft of tobacco worth 225,000 euros, noting that security cameras had been disabled during the theft.

In May 2019, a BIRN investigation showed how Montenegro had once again become the hub of a global tobacco smuggling scam, funneling millions of counterfeit cigarettes to the EU with ‘ghost’ ships, shell companies and false papers.

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