Investigation: Production of Marlboro has been halted, cigarette smuggling to Afghanistan. Did Philip Morris suspended Inter Tobacco’s license?

15 mins

На русском языке: Расследование: «Производство Marlboro остановлено, а контрабанда идёт в Афганистан». Philip Morris забрала лицензию у «Интер Тобакко»?
На беларускай мове: «Цыгарэты PM рабіць перасталі, а кантрабанда ідзе ў РФ і Афганістан». Як ідуць справы ў тытунёвай кампаніі Алексіна «Інтэр Табака»?

Inter Tobacco is the youngest tobacco factory in Belarus. In August, it came under US sanctions and, according to sources, after that serious problems began. It is reported that the factory no longer produces cigarettes under license from Philip Morris: Marlboro, L&M and Parliament. Only 3 of 7 lines work, but production today is focused on the release of Dove cigarettes. They produce 750,000 packs a day. We tell you where the smuggling of their cigarettes goes to, what they are made of and how the US sanctions affected Alexey Oleksin's company.

Inter Tobacco company belongs to Alexey Oleksin, a businessman close to the official authorities, who received unprecedented rights from the state to sell tobacco products, as well as to create a Trade Point Network Tabakerka. It is a part of the group of companies CJSC Energo-Oil, according to which, the company owns 40% of the domestic tobacco market, and its assets include more than 10 thousand outlets throughout the country.

Inter Tobacco is also the youngest tobacco company in Belarus, which started its activities in 2018. A year later, it received the exclusive right from the state to import tobacco raw materials and launched a tobacco factory near Minsk. To implement the project, the city boundaries were even reduced and 1.48 hectares were transferred to the Minsk district. The investment in the project was not disclosed, but previously the amount of 100 million rubles was called.

The key partner of the factory is the tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI). The American company returned to Belarus after closing its Minsk office in 2007 because of depriving it of quota for the import of cigarettes.

«The Republic of Belarus has always been and remains one of the important countries for our business in the region. On February 11, 2020, the Inter Tobacco factory began licensed production of PMI products in Belarus. The factory produces licensed products of cigarette brands PMI Marlboro and Parliament», – Ashot Chagaryan, head of the representative office of Philip Morris Service S.A. in Belarus, told

Investigation: Production of Marlboro has been halted, cigarette smuggling to Afghanistan. Did Philip Morris suspended Inter Tobacco’s license?

Inter Tobacco factory / Photo: TUT.BY

According to the official website, as of February 2020, Oleksin’s company produced three brands of tobacco products under license from Philip Morris: Marlboro, L&M and Parliament. As well as two own brands: Dove and Red Bor. By the way, the packaging design of the latter is quite reminiscent of the visual design of one popular energy drink. In addition, you can also learn from open sources that the company produced another brand of cigarettes under the PM license — Bond.

Investigation: Production of Marlboro has been halted, cigarette smuggling to Afghanistan. Did Philip Morris suspended Inter Tobacco’s license?

Red Bor cigarettes produced by Inter Tobacco factory /

Smuggling of Oleksin's company cigarettes to Russia and more?

News about the detained smuggling of cigarettes appear weekly, and sometimes even more often, but in the vast majority of cases, cigarettes of the Grodno tobacco factory Neman, such as NZ, Minsk and Fest, are arrested. The fact is that the main direction of sales of products for Inter Tobacco is the Russian Federation, and all cigarette smuggling to Russia is controlled by Alexey Oleksin, as the Project publication told in its investigation.

However, despite the fact that it seems to get everything covered, sometimes contraband is still confiscated by Russian customs officers, and these few cases already give an idea of the real scale of illegal exports to the Russian Federation. But even more revealing are the numerous reviews of smuggled cigarettes Dove and Red Bor on Youtube.

Investigation: Production of Marlboro has been halted, cigarette smuggling to Afghanistan. Did Philip Morris suspended Inter Tobacco’s license?

Confiscated contraband of Inter Tobacco cigarettes in the Russian Federation, 2021 /

It is worth saying that the Russian Federation is not the only direction for the company. According to the Kantar Ukraine research institute, Dove is one of the most common smuggled brands of cigarettes in Ukraine. In addition, it is reported that the company is likely to send its products to Afghanistan.

«Trucks are loaded at the factory in Shabany. Packs without excise duties go somewhere to Russia, sometimes through Russia somewhere to the Caucasus, Afghanistan or Kazakhstan», – the source said.

What are cigarettes made of at Inter Tobacco?

There’re 7 German lines for the production of cigarettes installed at the Inter Tobacco factory, but according to sources, after the imposition of sanctions, only 2-3 of them work.

«The factory has 7 lines, three or two of them work, they produce 9000 cigarettes per minute, the third line is smaller, but it’s still a lot. The standard is 250,000 packs from a line per day. The lines are German, the warranty contract was cut, there are no spare parts», – the sources said.

Materials of both Belarusian and foreign production are used for tobacco products. Acetate filter sticks, also called filters for cigarettes, supplied by the Grodno tobacco factory Neman, paper is produced by the German Glatz feinpapiere Paper Mills, aluminum foil from the Greek factory Symetal S.A, packaging is supplied by the Bulgarian Darimex Trading ltd, cardboard is supplied by the Belarusian enterprise BPH, and tobacco, or rather tobacco waste, is supplied directly from Brazil.

Marlboro and Parliament are not produced anymore?

In early August, Philip Morris stopped selling IQOS in Belarus. The reason was that Alexey Oleksin came under the 4th package of EU sanctions, and his company Energo-OIL is a monopolist on the import of heated tobacco «HEETS» and IQOS tobacco heating systems to Belarus. On August 9, 2021, Inter Tobacco, like Oleksin himself, came under US sanctions.

At that time, no one wrote about the cigarettes produced by Oleksin’s company under the license of Philip Morris, the tobacco giant also did not comment on the continuation of the production of their cigarettes at Inter Tobacco. However, according to our sources, the production of all brands of cigarettes under the PM license at the factory has been discontinued for several months.

«The contract for the production of PM cigarettes at Inter Tobacco was cancelled in summer, now they produce only Dove. Marlboro and Parliament, which remained in the warehouse, were sent for separation — paper with a filter in one direction, tobacco in the other», – the sources said.

We could not find any official confirmation, but this information is confirmed by several independent sources. Probably, the Philip Morris company and much less Inter Tobacco did not want to disclose it, but they could not continue production with the risk of coming under sanctions.

If you have any information about the current state of the tobacco market and production in Belarus, we would be grateful for the messages to our bot @motolko_bot.

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