Cigarettes smuggling on the Prut river continue to be a thriving business. While the Bucharest authorities are alarmed that the smuggling of cigarettes comes from the Republic of Moldova, those in Chisinau are assured that the situation is under control. On the other hand, there is a new phenomenon, smuggling cigarettes coming from the Republic of Moldova to Romania are of Chinese production and they arrived in our country also through smuggling. More and more voices claim that the illicit transport of cigarettes would be protected by influential people from Chisinau.
Until recently, when talking about cigarette smuggling, everyone was pointing to Vlad Filat, nicknamed the "King of Smuggling," after the incarceration of the former prime minister, the current government is now trying to convince us that this phenomenon has almost been countered.
However, the information coming from across the Prut proves to the contrary. The phenomenon of cigarette smuggling in the Republic of Moldova exists, is increasing and seems to be organized at the highest level of influential people.
Record smuggling with Chinese cigarettes
On the night of June 3, the Romanian authorities detained a license plate number from Maramures, on the right bank of the Prut River, near the town of Ungheni , which proved to be false, loaded with "Ashima" cigarettes produced in China.
The Romanian police officers counted 570 boxes with 285,000 cigarette packs.
Preliminary research has shown that the group of cigarettes has been crossed over the Prut River in the Republic of Moldova.
How was the smuggling across Prut possible?
The lot of cigarettes, estimated at at least 6 million Moldovan lei, were transported through the border area near the town of Ungheni, up to the Prut river by a truck.
After a month ago or so, the tracks of the tires, which seem to be from a military truck, remained prominent. The border police do not have such cars.
On the steep bank of the Prut wooden decks were installed, where the smuggling cargo was discharged.
Here, the cigarette boxes were fixed on special platforms and transported across the Prut with a previously funicular installed.
Why did the Moldovans not notice anything?
The police subdivisions at the border with the European Union are appropriately technically equipped, especially from external donations. Under normal working conditions, it is almost impossible for at least one person to not fall into the range of the thermal imaging devices. In our case, there were many people who have unloaded the cigarettes and transported them over the Prut, the truck, but also the merchandise itself which hasn’t been noticed.
Preliminary investigations show that that border perimeter remained for several hours without supervision. The patrol chart for the sector was set up in such a way that the area remains unattended for 5 hours. Similarly, the patrol on the right side of the Prut was also scheduled in such a way, that the border section where the smuggling group crossed, remains unattended.
Former border police officer, Gheorghe Petic, helped us to reconstitute how cigarettes have been transported over the Prut.
Who would stand behind the June 3 smuggling lot?
The one who signed the patrol chart in this area is Sergiu Lungu, Deputy Head of the Regional Directorate of the Border Police, a retired Interior Minister appointed to the post on May 3, 2017. At the moment, he would be suspended from office being prosecuted.
According to sources from the Border Police, "Alexander" Slivinschi, Deputy Head of the Ungheni Sector of the Regional Directorate of Border Police, was appointed to "business" on August 1, 2016. Alexandru Slivinschi's wife, who is currently on maternity leave, is also employed at the Western Regional Directorate of Border Police.
Police couple Alexandu and Svetlana Slivinschi. Source: facebook.com
Alexandu Slivinschi is the brother to Andrei Slivinschi, head of the Western Regional Border Police Division, appointed on 1 August 2016.
Andrei Slivinschi. Source: border.gov.md
Andrei and Alexandru Slivinschi still have a brother, Mihai Slivinschi, who heads the Border Police Sector at Chisinau International Airport since March 27, 2017.
The Border Police sources also claim that the Slivinschi brothers would be close to Veaceslav Garstea, deputy head of the MAI Border Police General Inspectorate. Garstea came to office on October 17, 2016, after serving almost 2 years as Chief of the Border Police Sector at Chisinau International Airport.
Veaceslav Garstea. Source: sputnik.md
According to the Romanian press, the one that would have facilitated the crossing of the Chinese cigarettes from the Republic of Moldova would be Commissar Dumitru Leonardo Melinte, Deputy Head of Nicolina Sector, Border Police Iasi. Dumitru Leonardo Melinte was also in charge of the prosecutors in 2010, when he was the head of the Romanian Border Police at the Sculeni Crossing Point. Melinte's name appeared in the scandal of cigarette trafficking at the Sculeni customs, which would have been organized by the then prime minister, Vlad Filat.
Dumitru Leonardo Melinte is a friend of Flavius Vasile Onofrei, the last is Deputy Head of the EUBAM Office in Moldova, EUBAM being the EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine.
Flavius Vasile Onofrei, on the right. Source: border.gov.md
The two buyers, who enrolled in PhD studies at the Faculty of Law of the State University of Moldova, had been seen at various parties in the company of dignitaries from the Republic of Moldova.
Chisinau is silent
Although it has been more than a month since the Ungheni contraband group was found, Chisinau did not come with a formal statement on this case. The reason for this is that the smuggling lot was found in Romania.
The Former Border Police employee Gheorghe Petic, who is witnessing what has happened, made statements in the press about this case, but Moldovan Interior Ministry officials accused him of denigrating the police image.
At the request of CrimeMoldova, Raisa Novitchi, the head of the press service of the Border Police General Inspectorate, forwarded the following statement, stating that this is the official position of the institution he represents: "In this case two criminal cases were initiated - illegal border crossing and smuggling. One of these criminal cases was opened by the Border Police on the day the crime was registered. Currently, both criminal cases are dealt with by the Prosecutor's Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Causes, and in order not to jeopardize the course of investigations, we will not provide details on the case. We would like to point out that, in parallel, the Border Police and the SPIA of the MAI are managing two disciplinary investigations ".
Neither POCOCSC has provided more details in order not to "prejudice" the investigation.
Although in the press it was alluded to the fact that influential people from DPM were involved in this case there, the leadership of the ruling party did not come up with a reaction.
Bucharest is alarmed, while Chisinau is fine
This is not the only case of cigarette smuggling in the Republic of Moldova. In March 2017, the Romanian police detained a minibus in Moldova near Iasi with 60 cigarette boxes "Ashima", hidden among fruit trees. The means of transport, with cigarettes, is taken out of Romania and returned to the Republic of Moldova shortly after. A Moldovan tax collector was detained in this case. On March 10, a truck with 200 boxes of cigarettes without stamps was detained at the Moldavian customs, right next to the squad scanning machine.
Ileana Dumitru, Legal and Public Relations Director of British American Tobacco Central and South Europe, said that in the first half of 2018, cigarette smuggling networks managed to increase sales over the same period last year, the black market in Romania, increasing from 15.5% to 16.3%. According to a study by Novel Research, 1 percentage point of smuggling is worth about 35 million euros. The 16 percentage points of the market represented by official cigarette smuggling means a loss for the Romanian state of about 560 million euros per year.
According to the portal stopcontrabanda.ro, the Romanian authorities prevented about 150 million cigarettes from reaching the black market in 2017, but only about 3% of the total illicit cigarettes consumed in the country.
The black market level in Romania is well above the European average of 9%, and the region most affected by cigarette smuggling remains the northeast of the country. Here are the borders with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, the main countries of origin for smuggling cigarettes to be consumed in Romania.
According to the Border Police Inspectorate General's report for 2017, 177 cases of illicit trafficking of cigarettes were recorded last year, in which more than 185,000 cigarette packs were found. "The dynamics of the statistical indicators that characterize the illicit traffic of cigarettes shows a decrease of the cases by 21% compared to the same period in 2016. According to statistical data, this category of criminal activity is specific to the border segment with Romania", reads the document.
In an interview with Moldova 1 at the end of last year, Veaceslav Garstea said that the illicit cigarette trafficking in Romania has diminished considerably.