Revenue Commissioner Gerry Harrahill’s speech at commissioning of Revenue’s new ‘ZBV’ mobile scanner
Thank you Tom, good afternoon and you are all very welcome.
I would like to especially welcome our guest of honour this afternoon Mr Michael Hornoe, European Regional Director with Rapiscan Systems and AS&E, the company that built the ‘ZBV’ scanner and pioneers of Z backscatter technology. We are very pleased to also welcome Prof. Peter Mitchell, Revenue’s Radiation Protection Advisor, Mr Eddie Butler, Ms Emma Coates and Ms Niamh O’Brien from Butler Technologies, key partners of AS&E in Ireland and a vital support to Revenue in acquiring the scanner, Inspector Laurence Brady from An Garda Síochána, and Mr Thomas Kavanagh, head of security in Dublin Port – thank you all for joining us this afternoon.
Revenue’s role is to serve the community by fairly and efficiently collecting taxes and duties and implementing customs controls. Our effectiveness in the administration of tax and duty, including our anti-smuggling strategy, is central in Ireland’s fiscal, social and economic welfare. We are determined to target and disrupt all forms of illegal and non-compliant activity and to support and facilitate legitimate trade. We collaborate extensively with other Departments and Agencies, both nationally and internationally, in our ongoing work to target and confront drug smuggling, the illicit tobacco trade and other forms of criminal activity. The challenges we jointly face are complex and everchanging and sometimes in quite challenging environments and circumstances. I thank all of the agencies and indeed our international counterparts for their support, engagement and very successful collaboration with us.
CSO figures released in June this year report that Irish ports handled over 55 million tonnes of goods in 2018, with goods received accounting for over 67% of all goods handled. Containerised cargo movement is an essential part of legitimate business, however it can also be exploited to feed the supply chain to the shadow economy and of the illegal and criminal trade including the illicit tobacco and drug trades. With continually changing economic and business environments, and global trade volumes continuing to grow, Revenue’s challenge is to constantly anticipate emerging risks and respond to them effectively, while at the same time facilitating the free flow of legitimate trade. This is against a background of smugglers using increasingly inventive and complex smuggling methods and concealment techniques.
Revenue’s anti-smuggling strategy is underpinned by a robust foundation of data analytics, intelligence and risk profiling in conjunction with the screening of cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages. We have anti-smuggling teams at all main ports and airports and at the main postal depots. We focus on maximizing the effectiveness of Revenue legislative powers and on optimising deployment of all our resources including our staff, our Maritime Unit and two Revenue Customs cutters, our scanning technologies, including our mobile x-ray scanners and our canine colleagues in our detector dog teams. All of these resources together play a vital role in our anti-smuggling response.
And so to formally introduce our new mobile x-ray scanner parked just outside. This ‘Z Backscatter Van’ was part-funded by the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, with a very significant grant of €550,000 under the Hercule III Programme. Its total cost was €1.1m, and we are hugely grateful for OLAF’s support in acquiring the new scanner.
The scanner was built by AS&E in Boston, who are pioneers in Z backscatter technology. The use of this technology is proven in the detection of drugs, tobacco products and other contraband, particularly when concealed within freight consignments.
The new scanner was deployed here in Dublin Port earlier this year and is expected to remain in service until at least 2030. It provides an unobtrusive and non-invasive way to examine cargo with minimum disruption to legitimate trade, and its flexibility and speed significantly increases our scanning capability.
I would like to formally thank our colleagues in OLAF for their support under the Hercule III Programme, and in part-funding this very valuable resource in Revenue’s anti-smuggling framework. Of course, our cooperation with OLAF is not limited to Hercule III. We collaborate extensively with our colleagues in OLAF, from information and intelligence sharing to joint Customs operations investigating irregularities involving evasion of duty on imports into the EU. The engagement between OLAF and Ireland has been very positive and mutually beneficial over the years, and we look forward to continued close cooperation into the future.
Trade in illicit drugs, at a global and European level, is a lucrative, resilient and rapidly evolving business. For example, the EU Drugs Market Report for 2019 estimated that almost 25 million citizens in the EU used cannabis in 2018, while the increasing availability in Low-THC cannabis products has triggered extensive debate on how society should respond to this substance. With over 1.1 million seizures of illicit drugs reported in 2017 in Europe, it is clear that the illicit drugs trade is significant among the challenges we face.
Revenue has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs intended to be smuggled or illegally imported to, or exported from, the State. Our strategy for acting against drug crimes is designed to be complimentary to the Government’s Drugs Strategy 2017 – 2025, led by the Department of Health, and in particular the Strategy’s objective of reducing access to drugs.
We engage with international bodies including the Maritime Analysis Operations Centre-Narcotics (MAOC-N), Europol and Interpol in on-going actions aimed at intercepting and preventing the trafficking of drugs, illicit medicines, psychoactive substances and drug precursors. We also work at a national level in collaboration with An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the Naval Service in the fight against illicit drugs. As recently as June of this year, a joint operation by Revenue and An Garda Síochána, resulted in the seizure of a consignment of herbal cannabis with an estimated street value of €1.9 million that was destined for the Irish market. This is an example of the type of operation that gives testament to our collective commitment to working together to tackle drugs smuggling and the shadow economy, both of which cause real and serious harm and hardship in our communities.
Active cooperation between Revenue, An Garda Síochána and the Naval Service will continue to be crucial in combatting the threat posed by the illegal drug trade, and we are committed to maintaining a close productive and collaborative working relationship.
The illicit tobacco market continues to be one of the most profitable areas for organised crime groups operating in the European Union, and globally. The World Health Organisation estimates 1 in every 10 cigarettes and tobacco products consumed globally is illicit. A survey carried out in late 2018 on behalf of Revenue and the National Tobacco Control Office of the HSE indicated that 13% of all cigarettes or the equivalent of 23 million packs, consumed in the State were illicit. This corresponds to an estimated loss to the Exchequer of €211 million in Excise and VAT for 2018.
Revenue’s strategy is to target the supply of illicit tobacco products, with a view to disrupting the supply chain, seizing the illicit products and prosecuting those responsible. Key elements of our strategy include risk analysis and profiling to screen cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages to intercept the supply of illicit tobacco products.
Much of this criminal activity has a transnational and cross border dimension and, in addition to our ongoing cooperation with An Garda Síochána in this field, we work closely with our counterparts in other jurisdictions, including colleagues in Northern Ireland through the Joint Agency Task Force, and bodies including OLAF, Europol and the World Customs Organisation.
In 2018, our targeted actions led to the seizure of over 67 million illicit cigarettes and almost 2,000kgs of smoking tobacco, with a combined value of over €42 million. 2018 also saw the detection and closure of the first ever illegal cigarette factory in the State.
In 2019 to date, we have seized 12.1 million cigarettes worth €13.2 million, including 2.3 million smuggled cigarettes in March that had arrived into Dublin Port on a container from Rotterdam. We have also seized over 3,000 kgs of tobacco worth €1.8 million, including 1,400 kgs worth in excess of €800,000 arriving in a shipment from China.
These seizures arise as a result of ongoing profiling, facilitated and enhanced by critical resources such as our new ‘ZBV’ mobile scanner and through our collaboration with other Departments and Agencies, both nationally and internationally. Despite the challenges presented, Revenue remains pro-active, vigilant and agile in the fight against tobacco smuggling.
As result of increased cooperation and intelligence sharing between Revenue and other EU Member States in relation to the movement of alcohol product between bonded warehouses within the EU, we have seen an increase in the number of larger seizures of illicit alcohol at our main ports.
In a series of operations in Dublin Port throughout the month of October, Revenue seized over 265,000 litres of alcohol with an estimated retail value of over €1.4 million. This corresponds to an estimated loss to the Exchequer of over €735,000. The alcohol was discovered following the examination of unaccompanied trailers arriving from the UK and Belgium.
The deployment of the ‘ZBV’ mobile scanner will play an integral part in these types of operations as it can be used to carry out a rolling scan of vehicle trailers in situ and containers at ground level, which was previously not possible without physically moving each trailer and container to a suitable scanning location, and it can also be used to check if a trailer is empty, thus verifying manifest information quickly and efficiently.
As you’ll see outside, some of our detector dog teams have just joined us and are eager to display their skills. And so I will finish by saying that in all our operations targeting tobacco and drug smuggling and the shadow economy Revenue strongly relies on good working relations and close inter-agency collaboration. I would like to again thank all our guests this afternoon, for your continued support and cooperation.