Tobacco smugglers busted

About 60 people have been arrested for allegedly belonging to a ring of contraband tobacco smugglers that extended to South America and Europe, Quebec provincial police said Wednesday.

The accused were allegedly members of a highly structured criminal organization that had ties to biker gangs as well as to criminal groups in native communities.

About 700 officers conducted more than 70 raids in and around Montreal, on the Montreal-area reserve of Kahnawake and on the Ontario reserve of Six Nations.

Police say the individuals would buy tobacco in the United States and import it illegally before selling it on the two reserves.

They say they confiscated 52,800 kilograms of tobacco, $1.5 million in Canadian cash, $3 million in U.S. funds, cocaine, methamphetamines, cannabis and fentanyl.

Police estimate the organization imported more than two million kilograms of tobacco between August 2014 and this month and defrauded authorities of $540 million in revenue.

"This investigation is the biggest ever in America in terms of contraband tobacco but also in terms of transborder criminality between Canada and the United States," said Quebec provincial police spokeswoman Ingrid Asselin.

"The inquiry has shown the individuals were buying the tobacco in the United States, in North Carolina, importing it illegally into Canada, modifying the tobacco and then selling it here with pretty big profit margins."

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