European Commission Sues Tobacco Giant For Money Laundering

By Agence France-Presse The European Commission on Oct. 31 sued tobacco giant R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. for money laundering in the latest salvo in a long-running case about alleged cigarette smuggling. The new case is a "civil money-laundering action" against R. J. Reynolds filed in New York by the Commission and 10 members of the European Union, which are seeking to recoup millions of dollars in tax revenues lost to contraband tobacco. From its headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C., R. J. Reynolds dismissed the Commission action as "absurd." "Any allegations that we were involved in, or aware of, money laundering, conspiracy or other illegal acts are completely absurd," the company says. "We believe this suit should be dismissed, as were two other EU cases filed in U.S. court." The fresh European move, initiated under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act, comes after the New York District Court threw out an EU action against R. J. Reynolds, Philip Morris Cos. Inc. and Japan Tobacco in February. "The Commission is determined to win its fight against money laundering, cigarette smuggling and connected serious cross-border crimes," says EU Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer. The EU alleges that U.S. tobacco companies are involved in smuggling cigarettes into the 15-nation bloc, costing member states several hundred million euros (dollars) a year in lost customs revenues. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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