PUTRAJAYA - More than RM7 million (S$2.72 million) worth of illicit cigarettes with unpaid duty totalling RM66.57 million have been taken off the streets by Malaysian Customs under its Ops Outlet operations.
Part of a renewed effort that began on March 5, Ops Outlet has seen 2,618 premises raided nationwide as the Customs officers try to snuff out the illicit cigarette trade which was costing the Government RM1.9bil in uncollected taxes annually.
Customs director-general Datuk Seri Khazali Ahmad said 686 suspects, at 999 premises that such cigarettes had been stored in or sold from, have been arrested.
"Offenders have also been slapped with harsher punishments such as compulsory jail time instead of the usual fine," he said during a press conference at the customs headquarters at Putrajaya yesterday.
Khazali said the tougher stance seemed to be paying off because illicit cigarettes were getting more difficult to find nowadays. But he stressed that the Customs department would be working even harder to stamp out illicit cigarettes.
"We hope to double the number of arrests and seizures in six months," he said.
Johor, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak were the states with the most seizures, according to him.
The department has 44 strike teams to conduct checks and raids on outlets suspected of selling illicit cigarettes, as well as a network of personnel who go undercover to identify these outlets.
Khazali said that while Ops Outlet's main aim was to put an end to illicit cigarettes, other contraband such as smuggled liquor were also being targeted.
Concerned that Malaysia was now ranked No. 1 in the world for contraband cigarettes, the Customs department was also pressing for the maximum sentence against offenders.