Malaysia's cigarette crackdown intensifies

KUALA LUMPUR - The Customs Department continued its nationwide blitz on the sale of illicit cigarettes over two days this week, seizing several thousand sticks and detaining several people.

The raids, conducted here and in Selangor, Penang, Kelantan, Perak, Kedah and Johor, had caused at least one store owner to resist detention while traders at one market were sent running.

The raids here were carried out yesterday at a restaurant in Jalan Belangkas, Ampang and another in Pandan Jaya. More than 100 packs of cigarettes were seized during the raid in Jalan Belangkas.

The illegal cigarettes were found stashed under the cashier's counter and the restaurant owner, in his 60s, reluctantly surrendered them when questioned by enforcement officers.

Among the brands confiscated were Luffman, Pine, Canyon, Gudang Garam and Nusantara.

The restaurant owner was taken to Ampang police headquarters for questioning.

At the Pandan Jaya restaurant, illicit cigarettes were found hidden in the shop's storeroom.

A foreigner who was manning the counter was detained to assist investigations and the restaurant owner, who was informed of the raid, was said to be rushing back from Kajang.

In Bandar Baru Sungai Buloh, Selangor, Customs enforcement officers raided a mini market, but only found three packs of contraband cigarettes, which a Bangladeshi shopkeeper claimed was his.

The officers detained the foreigner for questioning.

In Tumpat, three women were detained in separate raids by the department in the district yesterday for possessing illegal cigarettes.

The women, who owned sundry shops in Kampung Air Dingin and Kampung Kebakat, were arrested in a three-hour operation.

A small quantity of illegal cigarettes valued at hundreds of ringgit were seized in the operation which ended at 2pm.

The 14-man team from the state Customs department was led by its assistant director Aziz Omar.

Two of the women, including a mother of two small children, were detained at Kampung Air Dingin, while the other was nabbed at Kampung Kebakat.

The women, aged between 20 and 40, were brought to the Customs office in Rantau Panjang, Pengkalan Kubur and Kota Baru to record their statements. They are expected to be charged under Section 135(1)(d) of the Customs Act 1967.

It is learnt that the operation was the ninth held in Kelantan over the past two weeks.

On Tuesday, a man and a woman were charged separately at the magistrate's court here with possessing a total of 144 packets of illegal cigarettes valued at RM201.40 (S$77.75) last week.

The two pleaded guilty and were fined RM1,500 and RM1,000 respectively, but failed to pay the fine and have to serve a four-month jail sentence.

In Nibong Tebal, an attempt by a sundry shop operator to hide 140 packets of contraband cigarettes in biscuit containers was discovered by Penang Customs officers yesterday.

Acting on a tip-off, the raiding team found 14 biscuit containers containing various types of contraband cigarettes in the shop in Taman Puteri Gunung.

The officers later recorded a statement from the errant operator, in his 60s, to facilitate investigations into illegal cigarettes, believed to have been smuggled in from a neighbouring country.

Checks showed the operator was selling the cigarettes due to high demand for them.

He said his regular customers had switched to smuggled cigarettes because they were cheaper at RM3 a pack compared with regular cigarettes, which cost between RM7 and RM12 per pack. Additional reporting by Rizalman Hammim, Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah, Roshidi Abu Samah, Ili Shazwani and Rahmat Khairulrijal