KUALA LUMPUR - The Customs Department is tightening the screws on illicit cigarette retailers by deploying 400 personnel in hotspots for the contraband, said director-general Datuk Seri Khazali Ahmad.
He said the special operation code named Ops Pacak would see personnel at every identified location to thwart the sale, consumption and possession of such cigarettes.
"Currently, 35% of the cigarettes on sale in the country are contraband and we aim to reduce that to at least 30% this year," he said.
"The operation will be conducted for a month starting with Chow Kit and Kampung Baru with 18 personnel deployed," he said after launching the operation at Chow Kit here yesterday.
"We have identified Selangor, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak as the states with the most number of illicit cigarette dealers," he said.
He said the special operation was a follow-up to the recent success of Ops Outlet, where the department raided 8,320 outlets and seized RM11.72mil (S$4.6mil) worth of cigarettes with unpaid duties amounting to RM97.06mil between January and Aug 12.
Khazali revealed that the department also arrested 923 people, resulting in 242 of them charged while 37 had been imprisoned.
"Ops Outlet managed to reduce the demand for illicit cigarettes by 3.1%, which amounts to 200 million sticks," he said, adding that smuggled cigarettes had cost the Government RM1.9bil in uncollected duties.
While the operations were focused on retailers, Khazali said those caught buying or even possessing the contraband would also face punishment.
Under Section 135(1)(d) of the Customs Act 1967, those caught selling the contraband item face a maximum three years' imprisonment or a fine of up to 20 times the value of the seized items, or both.
Meanwhile, Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement division special task force chief Fahmi Kasim said the ministry would give its full cooperation.
Those with information on illegal cigarettes can call 1-800-888-855.