GEORGE TOWN - Three sundry shop operators were arrested for allegedly selling contraband cigarettes in Gelugor, Paya Terubong and Balik Pulau in Malaysia.
More than 66 cartons of such cigarettes were also seized after the two premises were searched by the state Customs Department officers during an operation codenamed Ops Outlet yesterday.
The officers had earlier questioned the shop operator, in his 60s, in Gelugor but he denied selling such items and while they were inside, a man suddenly walked in and asked to buy a packet of contraband cigarettes.
The premises was subsequently searched and six cartons of such cigarettes were found.
At the other shop located within a Paya Terubong apartment block, the officers had to use a ladder to recover more than 60 cartons of illicit cigarettes hidden on top of a cabinet.
It took the officers a while before they found the contraband in the storeroom which was full of groceries.
The officers seized the cigarettes and detained the female operator for questioning.
Another sundry shop nearby was searched but nothing was found.
The three shops were among five raided by the Customs Department in their blitz against contraband cigarettes.
They also checked another two shops in Bayan Lepas and Balik Pulau.
They managed to seize 10 packets of cigarettes from the Bayan Lepas outlet and the operator was nabbed to assist in investigations.
According to sources, these operators would get their supply from a man who would come in either a car or a motorcycle.
"He would park far from the shops, and this had made it difficult for us to gather any evidence to prosecute him."
Among the brands seized were U2, Gudang Garam and John. Each packet was sold at RM3.50 (S$1.30) while a carton was RM33.
Besides Penang, the Customs Department also carried out raids on 13 outlets in Perak, Kelantan and Selangor.
Ops Outlet was launched by the Customs Department on March 5, as a nationwide crackdown on retailers selling illegal cigarettes.
It is meant to reduce illegal cigarette levels to at least 30 per cent this year.
The current level of illegal cigarettes is almost 36 per cent of the total cigarettes market in the country.