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November 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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Smugglers transported millions of contraband cigarettes around Bulgaria in coffins and even hired hearses to throw investigators off the scent, the country's customs chief said on Tuesday.

Head of the Bulgarian customs agency Vanyo Tanov told state BNT television the smugglers also disguised some vehicles as ambulances.

The announcement came after officials seized 25 million contraband cigarettes.

Four shiny coffins and boxes labelled as containing broccoli were found along with the contraband at a depot in the capital Sofia, the agency said in a statement.

The cigarettes were likely to have come from Dubai, it said, adding that it was the biggest contraband cigarette bust in Bulgaria in over eight years, with unpaid excise duties amounting to 3.5 million leva (1.8 million euros, $2.3 million).

Bulgaria has the most enthusiastic smokers in Europe after Greece, with 44 percent of its 7.4 million population lighting up regularly.

Over the past two years, it has seen a steep rise in demand for contraband cigarettes following a tax hike on tobacco products in line with EU regulations.

A total 15 percent of cigarettes sold in Bulgaria are contraband, down from 30 percent in 2010 thanks to regular busts, according to the customs agency.

Over 170 countries adopted on Monday in Seoul a global pact to combat the smuggling and counterfeiting of tobacco products, which accounts for 11 percent of the international tobacco market and costs governments an estimated $40 billion in lost tax revenue.

AFP

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