SEREMBAN: The Customs Department believes it has crippled the distribution network of a syndicate involved in smuggling illicit cigarettes following the seizure of almost 9,000 cartons of the contraband and 15 vehicles in an operation in Klang.
Negri Semblian Customs chief Mohammad Hafiz Ishak said his officers had carried out an operation in an oil palm estate in Kg Air Hitam on Feb 22 where they found a lorry and 14 vehicles of various models in a secluded area.
"Upon checking, we found 8,750 cartons or 1.75 million Saat-brand white cigarettes and another 240 cartons or 28,800 clove cigarettes in the vehicles.
"The contraband and the vehicles, some of which were brand new, were subsequently seized," he told reporters at the state Customs office here.
Muhammad said the seized cigarettes were worth some RM144,000 with unpaid duties totalling RM1.19mil.
He said the syndicate's modus operandi was to transport the illicit cigarettes to a secluded area and then distribute it to buyers.
"The cigarettes are in demand as they are available at a much cheaper price.
"Some of these brands cost only RM5 a packet while the average price in the market is about RM17," he said.
Muhammad said the seized cars were privately owned and had valid road tax discs.
"We know who the owners are and expect to make some arrests soon," he said.
He said Customs officers also found gadgets known as a "jammer" in every vehicle.
Syndicates would use the gadget so that raiding teams would not be able to communicate with one another within a certain radius.
"This is another latest tactic used by the syndicates.
"They will use any trick that is available as the returns from this illegal business are really good," he said.
Asked how the owners of the vehicles could manage to flee before Customs officers arrived, he said they could have been alerted by tontos.
To another question, he said the illegal cigarettes were believed to have been brought in from a neighbouring country.
"We believe the contraband was then transported to Klang after being smuggled in from a point along the east coast," he said.
The case he said was being probed under Section 135(1)(d) of the Customs Act 1967 and Section 74(1)(a) of the Excise Act 1976.
Offenders could be fined between 10 and 20 times the value of the goods or between RM100,000 and RM500,000, whichever was higher, upon conviction or jailed between six months and five years, or both upon conviction.