Authorities in Brazil seized over eight million packs of contraband cigarettes in just one state in 2013, providing an indication of the size of the trade in black market tobacco from Paraguay, which has been linked to that country's president.
Brazilian police confiscated the cigarettes in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the southernmost part of the country, reported G1 Globo.
These black market cigarettes are reportedly smuggled from Paraguay in cargo trucks, and are also trafficked across Lake Itaipu -- which stretches along the border between the two countries -- from the Paraguayan city Salto del Guaira to the Brazilian city of Guaira.
According to Brazil's federal police, contraband cigarettes have been discovered in trucks carrying corn, cotton and rice as well as inside the refrigerated chambers of vehicles used to transport chicken and beef.
A member of the federal police force in Guaira said limited manpower and technology in the region made it difficult for police to catch smugglers. He explained that contraband traffickers had effective scouting systems that enabled them to evade the police and return to Paraguay if they were spotted on the lake by Brazilian authorities.
InSight Crime Analysis
The tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina where the cigarette crossing is located is a hub for contraband goods, a status facilitated by the large number of unregistered products flowing through Paraguay. In 2013, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes estimated that for every million dollars in products entering Paraguay, only $10,000-worth was declared.
Among other things, Paraguay is a major regional supplier of black market cigarettes, many of which have been linked to tobacco company Tabesa, owned by President Cartes. In addition to Brazil, these shipments have ended up in Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia, where over 1,000 crates of Paraguayan cigarettes were seized in one case in 2012.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Paraguay
Although a lucrative trade in and of itself, trafficking contraband cigarettes is also attractive to criminal groups because this activity can be used to launder money from drug proceeds. Earlier this year, an international investigation revealed that Colombian criminal groups, principally the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and a faction of the Urabeños, were selling trafficked Tabesa cigarettes for this reason.
It is possible that something similar occurs with cigarette trafficking into Brazil, and the trade may well be linked to criminal groups like the Red Command and the First Capital Command (PCC), which have an established a presence in Paraguay.