Montenegro’s Minister of Finance Aleksandar Damjanovic said the country could earn up to 20 million euros by selling confiscated tobacco.
Damjanovic said the finance ministry was set to propose a bill regarding confiscated tobacco from the Port of Bar, an area that is now notorious as a cigarette-smuggling hub.
“Under the law proposal, we will establish takeover deadlines for tobacco products and offers to the former owners. If they do not take it over and take it out of Montenegro, we may hold a public auction,” Damjanovic said at Friday’s government session in Podgorica.
“In this way, the state could earn between 15 and 20 million euros,” he continued.
The Port of Bar has become a known hub for cigarette smuggling since the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There, imported tobacco is typically re-exported, and domestically-produced Montenegrin cigarettes are also shipped.
According to official data, 21 of the 26 companies with storage facilities in Bar are storing tobacco there. Last year, authorities announced the start of a legal process that would prohibit the storage of tobacco in Bar as part of efforts to curb tobacco and cigarette smuggling.
“Some warehouses at the port are kept only for smuggled cigarettes, and private companies are in charge of loading and unloading the containers. This level of activity could only be possible with the collusion of port and customs officials and the police,” reads a 2019 report from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI).
In May this year, Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic paid a visit to the port amid the seizure of 145 thousand packages of confiscated tobacco. There, he announced the government planned to establish a legal means of selling confiscated tobacco so as to boost the public budget.
The scheme quickly attracted global criticism. On June 16, the British ambassador in Montenegro Karen Maddocks said confiscated tobacco should be destroyed rather than sold, and called on authorities to bolster tobacco smuggling investigations instead.
“We recently shared good UK practice with the Montenegrin government on what to do with seized goods in a way that complies with international protocols – which is to destroy such goods, due to concerns about their quality, health standards and intellectual property rights,” Maddocks explained.
Montenegro’s Law on Customs says confiscated goods may be sold in public auctions, but must be destroyed where they pose a security or health risk. Until now, Montenegrin authorities have destroyed confiscated tobacco at the KAP aluminium plant in Podgorica.
Image by H.M. Revenue & Customs via Wikimedia