Armenia, northern Iraq, cigarettes and diamonds: ‘Exposure of large-scale smuggling’ (VIDEO-PHOTO)
In northern Iraq – in a large area that the West calls "Iraqi Kurdistan" and the local Kurds call "Bashur Kurdistan," or "Southern Kurdistan," many who buy expensive cigarettes in shops, markets, and restaurants are deceived.
The vast majority of cigarettes sold in a larger territory headed by M. Barzani and its capital Erbil are counterfeit.
Dozens of cigarettes, including Marlboro, Parliament, and Lucky Strike, are being smuggled into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Local buyers do not get to the bottom of the matter. They are well aware that boxes displaying the warning “Smoking Kills” are not made in the United States, Turkiye, Britain, Germany, or Switzerland.
Everything is more prosaic: almost all the "branded goods" sold in the malls and supermarkets in Erbil and tobacco products are counterfeit.
Most of these counterfeit cigarettes are made in Armenia.
No matter how paradoxical it may seem at first glance, Armenia, which suffered a heavy defeat in the Second Karabakh War and is facing economic troubles, has managed to become one of the suppliers by illegally entering the market of cigarettes and tobacco products in northern Iraq.
Armenia provides residents of Iraqi Kurdistan with counterfeit cigarettes as well as counterfeit alcohol.
The owners of the wholesale centers in Sulaymaniyah and Erbil say they started “collaborating” with Armenians years ago.
“We can order cigarettes of any brand, name and variety in Armenia. We know that counterfeit goods have a lower quality. But they are sold at affordable prices. We are making a good profit from the sale of cigarettes, made in small factories in Armenia,” says one of the market owners in Sulaymaniyah.
The main wholesale outlets for Armenian-made and smuggled cigarettes in northern Iraq are warehouses behind the Majidi Mall, a wholesale market near the Grand Millennium Sulaimani, a market near the Mall Sultan, and the Copthorne Hotel Baranan.
Since the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq is virtually independent of the central government in Baghdad, the part of the border with Iran that passes through the area is controlled not by Iraqi border guards, but by Peshmerga – local Kurdish militias.
Counterfeit cigarettes made in Armenia are first smuggled to Iran and then to Iraq.
The cigarettes are transported from the Tamarchin and Parviz Khan border checkpoints between Iran and Iraq to northern Iraq, and from there to wholesale centers.
"Products" made in Armenia and containing counterfeit "brand" alcohol are transported to the cities of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil via the same route, without paying any excise taxes to the Iraqi budget.
The National Security Service of Armenia is responsible for the security of this smuggled route, which has an annual turnover of $1.5 billion.
Back in the summer of 2020, the Armenian media reported that Russian law enforcement agencies were investigating a criminal case launched over cigarette smuggling from Armenia. At that time, a plane carrying 40 tons of smuggled cigarettes from Yerevan to Afghanistan was detained in Russia.
The investigation found out that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and 17 others were directly involved in this crime. Although Armenia later covered up the scandal, local media claims that Pashinyan’s brother-in-law and other relatives are responsible for the crime.
Armenia’s National Security Service also turns a blind eye to diamond smuggling.
Thus, the scheme under the direct control of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, his relatives and his minions is not complicated.
Diamonds purchased wholesale in India are transported to three factories in Armenia, where they are polished, branded as “Armenian goods” and then exported to the world market.
Of course, sales procedures are carried out based on quotas provided for in the state budget, and no customs duties are paid.
A fact: Before the Second Karabakh War, in the first quarter of 2020, Armenia exported diamonds worth 20 billion drams, or $ 40 million.
Nearly 1,400 polishers are needed to be involved in polishing this amount of diamonds. However, there are about 400 diamond polishers in Armenia. In other words, no amount of diamonds of that size could be processed in factories in Armenia.
At the same time, there are no relevant processing and polishing facilities in Armenia.
If the Pashinyan-led criminals sold $40 million worth of diamonds in the first three months of 2020, it is not easy to calculate the real volume of state-sponsored smuggling in Armenia.
The matter is about transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
In Armenia, where the economy is paralyzed, the financial system and manufacturing enterprises are experiencing a deep crisis, smuggling is a viable source of income for the government.
However, ordinary Armenians continue to live under miserable conditions.
The author is Elchin Alioghlu, the chief editor of the portal.