Operation ‘Class’ involved 350 customs officers, 150 financial police and 300 special unit police officers. On 2 November 2006 early morning raids were conducted at 50 different locations across the Czech Republic, Bavaria and Berlin.
Peter Lowe of the ICC Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau said: “Operation ‘Class’ exemplifies the increased pressure governments are placing on the illegal and dangerous manufacture of counterfeit products. The actions undertaken by the Czech and German authorities and the hard work of the police forces that made this operation a success, are commendable.”
Run by Vietnamese gangsters, the counterfeiting and smuggling operation was extremely large in scale. Over 80 people were arrested, with 20 now facing numerous charges including tax evasion. A total of 400 tonnes of tobacco and 29 million cigarettes were seized from approximately 300 abandoned factories discovered around the Czech Republic.
The highly organized syndicate housed illegal Vietnamese immigrants in deplorable living conditions and forced them to produce cigarettes using unsafe and unsanitary equipment. The machines, originally from China or Slovakia, had been cobbled together in a makeshift attempt to keep them operating.
Mr Lowe added: “This was a sophisticated group of criminals with international connections in Europe and Asia. They went to great lengths to create and export dangerous counterfeit material and blatantly disregarded the health and safety of those individuals they forced to produce the cigarettes and those who may have purchased them.”
Tests performed on two random samples of the counterfeit cigarettes seized indicated tar levels 60 to 80 percent above the highest permissible levels, and carbon monoxide levels 30 to 40 percent above the permitted maximum.
Two fully functional production facilities, capable of producing 3 500 cigarettes an hour, were completely dismantled. Gerhard Schmitt, chief district attorney in charge of the operation said: “We have dealt these internationally organized criminals an effective blow, one that extends from cigarette production all the way to the recipients.”
The cigarette manufacturing and smuggling operators frequently changed locations to avoid detection. The trucks used to smuggle the goods across borders featured false floors and linings to conceal the illegal cargo. Extremely accurate counterfeit packages were created using printing presses and other materials.