More Than 60 Arrested In Raids Targeting Alleged Organized Crime, Tobacco Smuggling Ring

TOBACCO-LAW

By Red Power Media, Staff, March 31, 2016

More than 60 arrested in police raids

In what is called the largest raid of its kind, Quebec provincial police dismantled an organized crime and tobacco smuggling ring on Wednesday.

While collaborating with more than a dozen municipal police forces, the operation, titled Project Mygale led to more than 60 people being arrested — including the alleged head of the organization — and more than 70 search warrants being carried out.

Police allege that people involved in the operation purchased tobacco in the U.S. and used three border crossings in New York state to move it to Canada. The tobacco was later sold illegally out of two aboriginal reserves in Quebec and Ontario, according to police.

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The crime ring also spans North America, South America and Europe.

Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police said they had seized more than 116,000 pounds of tobacco, representing fraud of about 13.5 million Canadian dollars ($10.33 million). They also seized more than $4 million in Canadian and U.S. cash and smaller quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl and cannabis.

The individuals who were arrested were part of a “highly structured criminal organization” linked to motorcycle and aboriginal gangs, a statement from the Quebec provincial police said. Police allege the tobacco was sold out of the Kahnawake First Nation reserve, located outside of Montreal, and the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario

The investigation involved 700 police officers from several regional and national Canadian police forces and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to Quebec police.

The SQ made arrests and conducted raids on the North Shore of Montreal, in the Laurentians, in Lanaudière and in Kahnawake.

Three of the alleged members of the criminal organization — including one of the higher-ups — handed themselves over to police in Kahnawake after collaborating with local peacekeepers.

The arrest of three members of the Kahnawake Mohawk band presented the SQ with a few additional hurdles. Because the provincial police don’t have jurisdiction on the South Shore territory, they needed to cooperate with local peacekeepers Wednesday morning.

But the growth and sale of contraband tobacco isn’t considered illegal in Kahnawake, who deem it a constitutional right akin to hunting and fishing on other territories. Though his officers don’t intervene in tobacco-related arrests, chief Peacekeeper Dwayne Zachary helped broker a compromise with the SQ.

“I told them, what we could do is assign somebody to notify the individuals about the (arrest warrants),” Zachary told the Montreal Gazette. “From there we helped them arrange a location where they could turn themselves in (to provincial police).”

Authorities in Six Nations say no arrests were made on their territory Wednesday relating to illegal tobacco – even though the provincial police force in Quebec claims otherwise.

Police estimate the organization imported more than two million kilograms of tobacco between August 2014 and this month and defrauded authorities of $540 million in revenue.

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