We will work with Spain on smuggling: Gibraltar

The chief minister of Gibraltar has hit back at "unobjective" media coverage in Spain in the wake of a report from the EU's anti-fraud office calling for Spain and the UK to tackle the problem of cigarette smuggling in the UK territory.

We will work with Spain on smuggling: Gibraltar
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in his office. Photo: Marcos Moreno/AFP

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo took to his Twitter account on Monday to defend his position after Spanish press revealed details of a report from the EU anti-crime agency Olaf which calls on Spain and the UK to combat tobacco smuggling.

Spanish authorities responded to the report — which was not made public — by saying they would investigate suspected illegal activity in the tiny UK territory.

Smuggling of tobacco is thought to cost Spain €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) is lost tax revenues.

But Picardo used his Twitter account to argue Spanish media coverage of the issue had been "rabid" and "unobjective" in its claims about tobacco smuggling in Gibraltar.

He quoted a UK government statement which stressed the presence of organized criminal gangs in Spain, which was "a huge concern for law-abiding citizens on both sides of the border".

The Gibraltar boss also highlighted the fact the Gibraltar was already clamping down on the illegal trade, and stressed it was willing to work with Spain to deal with the problem. 

At the same time, Picardo published sections of a July 30th letter from the European Commission describing Gibraltar's attempts to crack down on the illegal smuggling as "encouraging".

However, the Commission noted some measures were yet to be implemented, including a move to restrict cigarettes sales to 200 "to the same individual at any one time".  People can currently buy 1,000 cigarettes at a time .

The Commission also called for closer communications between Spain and Gibraltar on the issue of tobacco smuggling. 

Relations between London and Madrid became particularly strained last year after Gibraltar dropped 70 concrete blocks into the sea in July, in what its government said was an attempt to create an artificial reef.

The move had the effect of also blocking Spanish fishing boats from operating close to the airport runway, and Madrid responded by introducing stringent border checks.

The UK said on Monday that the Olaf report into tobacco smuggling had not impact on the European Commission's view that queues were at the border were "disproportionate". 

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