A criminal organization known as the Tobacco Cartel is attempting to control Mexico’s cigarette market by eliminating brands it doesn’t sell from store shelves in several states.
A special report published by the newspaper Milenio this week said that between January and September, police — or people posing as police — have carried out 364 operations at stores in eight states to seize and destroy cigarettes not distributed by the company Tobacco International Holdings (TIH).
The states where the raids have occurred are Nayarit, Veracruz, Sonora, Michoacán, Jalisco, Coahuila, Tabasco and Sinaloa.
Milenio said business owners and distributors of other cigarette brands were given fake letters from government departments such as the Federal Tax Administration (SAT) or the Federal Commission for Protection Against Sanitary Risk (Cofepris).
The letters state that cigarette brands other than those distributed by TIH are illegal and cannot be sold in Mexico.
The “seize and destroy operations” have been carried out by municipal, state and federal police, according to people targeted by them.
“They introduce themselves and show their badges and their guns but they never say their name. Then they say that they’ve come to seize a product, that only one brand of cigarettes can be sold, that it is the only one authorized for sale in Mexico,” one shop owner said.
In some states, such as Michoacán, the so-called Tobacco Cartel has distributed flyers to small grocery stores stating that by order of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), only TIH cigarette brands could be sold.
People selling or distributing non-TIH brands have even been kidnapped and the Tobacco Cartel has published videos warning those who defy its orders that they are also at risk of abduction or worse.
Federal authorities have denounced the operations as false. In other words, those selling and distributing the allegedly “illegal” cigarette brands are not breaking any law.
According to the Tobacco International Holdings website, TIH is a “Swiss-founded company for the exclusive purpose of having the rights of the brands registered in Mexico.”
Those brands, Laredo, Botas and Económicos among others, are all much cheaper than better-known cigarette brands, costing no more than 25 pesos (around US $1.30) a pack.
TIH cigarettes are made by Braxico Manufacturing and distributed by the company Bradis. Both are subsidiaries of TIH.
One of the partners of the company — and the head of the Tobacco Cartel — is believed to be Carlos Cedano Fillipini, a former police officer who has worked with several federal agencies including the Attorney General’s office (PGR).
He worked for the Federal Ministerial Police in several states, including four where the fake operations have taken place.
Cedano’s sister and nephew both work for the TIH subsidiaries while two of his brothers are in active service with the PGR, Milenio said. One of them, Genaro Cedano Fillipini, is suspected of links to organized crime.
A sign hung in Guadalajara earlier this year accused him of covering up for those responsible for the torture and murder of three film students in March. Members of the CJNG are believed to be responsible for the crime.
Carlos Cedano has previously been imprisoned both in Mexico and in the United States on charges of organized crime and illicit enrichment.
A Michoacán self-defense leader told authorities during a recent declaration that the former federal agent, also known as El Rambo, has links to the leader of the CJNG, Nemesio Oseguera or El Mencho — Mexico’s most wanted drug lord.
Source: Milenio (sp)