Airline staff and passenger charged with cigarette smuggling

Three people have been charged in connection with what customs officers allege was an attempt to smuggle cigarettes into the Cayman Islands to avoid paying government taxes.

The three – two airline employees and an airline passenger – were charged with evading customs duty in their attempt to sneak seven cartons of cigarettes past customs offices at Owen Roberts International Airport last month.

The 21-year-old female and 26-year-old male airline employees and the 35-year-old female passenger are due to appear in Summary Court next week.

“HM Customs is serious about dismantling this type of organized activity,” said Deputy Collector Marlon Bodden. “While we understand [in] the big scheme of things, the quantity of smuggled items may be small, it’s the principle that matters.

“It is very concerning that trusted and authorized persons within restricted areas are engaging in such actions.”

According to local business owners interviewed last month by the Cayman Compass, the issue of smuggled cigarettes and alcohol is anything but “small.”

David Dibben of CEL Distributors in Cayman told the newspaper last month that he believes his company missed out on major cash in recent years due to the smuggling activities.

“It’s a huge, huge loss of sales because of this,” Mr. Dibben said. “It’s not only smuggling, we’ve had to enforce trademarks to go and seize stuff from people. You don’t know exactly how it affects your business, you can only go from where your high point was to where you’ve seen your sales decline … in the last three years.”

In recent years, Mr. Dibben said, companies have become more savvy, falsifying invoices for products they did not pay duty on. He lauded the customs department and Acting Collector Samantha Bennett for taking steps to finally address the issue.

Chamber of Commerce President Johann Moxam said Mr. Dibben recently spoke with Chamber council members at length regarding smuggling issues about which Mr. Moxam said he was gravely concerned.

“The Chamber has received complaints from its members and we are in the process of gathering all the relevant facts and we hope to get a meeting with Samantha [Bennett] and also with the ministry responsible for enforcing relevant laws,” Mr. Moxam said.

“The black market that is developing in Cayman and the lack of enforcement negatively impacts the business community and the wider community … and it is an area that we would encourage the government to look at.”