Millions Of Contraband Cigarettes From Belize Form Smuggling Ring In Guatemala

Tonight there is major news coming out of Guatemala saying that authorities there have cracked open a major cigarette smuggling ring - and Belize is right in the middle of it.

"Guatevision" reports that The Public Ministry and the National Civil Police "conducted 35 raids to dismantle a criminal structure dedicated to the smuggling of cigarettes."

And those cigarettes - come right out of Belize - smuggled by sea to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and then from there, on to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras - taken through the back door all the way, not paying any taxes or duties.

And it didn't just happen once. The investigation found that from 2015 to 2016 the ring made at least 39 trips from Belize to Barios, and on each trip they transported close to 500 boxes of cigarettes, which contain 5 million cigarettes.

And how did they do it? Well, in Belize, cigarettes are one of the major imports to the Northern and Western Free Zones - they come from China in all kinds of brands and are then smuggled in container trucks from the Corozal Free Zone into Mexico. But, some of those cigarettes also go south. In 2013, the BDF intercepted 1,300 cases at Jalacte on the move to Puerto Barios.

But while the cigarettes can move through Belize as Free Zone exports - how did they bypass law enforcement in Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras?

Well, today's investigation shows that there was major complicity by law enforcement on the Guatemalan side of the border. Guatevision reports that 24 key players have been arrested, including 5 military personnel stationed at the Caribbean Naval Base. They are members of the Navy and stand accused of smuggling, conspiracy and money laundering.

These law enforcement officers are accused of relaxing patrols at particular times to let the contraband smokes pass through. The news was late breaking and we hope to have comment from Belize law enforcement tomorrow.

Channel 7