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INTERPOL is the world’s largest police organisation working across its 190 member countries to fight international crime. 1

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

Donation from PMI for INTERPOL to work with the tobacco industry to promote Codentify

In 2011 INTERPOL accepted a donation from Philip Morris International (PMI) of €15 million for three years of funding. With an annual budget in 2011 of €60 million, this represented 25% of INTERPOL’s annual budget.2

The funding officially started in July 2012 3 when INTERPOL announced both the creation of the INTERPOL Global Register, an online resource providing access to tools to help assess product authenticity, and that it would work with the tobacco industry front group, the (DCTA), to promote access to Codentify via its Global Register.2 These steps would effectively provide INTERPOL’s backing for Codentify and ensure law enforcement agencies could access it via the INTERPOL website.

Codentify is a pack marker system developed by PMI and licensed for free to its competitors. A leaked copy of the licensing agreement stipulated that the four major tobacco companies would work collectively to promote Codentify to governments globally as a track and trace system and to undermine alternative competitor-owned systems. This is despite evidence that Codentify has serious shortfalls as a Track and Trace system.2

Instead Codentify’s primary purpose, as the deal with INTERPOL would suggest, is to help the tobacco industry deal with counterfeiting.

FCTC Illicit Trade Protocol

The context to the agreement with INTERPOL is important. Between 2008 and 2012, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s (FCTC) Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP) was being negotiated, ultimately being adopted at the 5th Conference of the Parties (COP 5) in November 2012. This protocol puts technological solutions, via a global track and trace system, at the heart of efforts to address the global illicit tobacco trade.4

The deal with INTERPOL should therefore be seen as part of the tobacco industry’s ongoing efforts to promote Codentify as the global track and trace system of choice. 5

The inappropriateness of having the tobacco industry, whose involvement in the illicit tobacco trade has been so clearly documented, (Imperial and Gallaher Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling; BAT Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling; JTI Involvement in Smuggling, run a track and trace system to address illicit tobacco, has been flagged by Vera da Costa e Silva, head of the FCTC Secretariat who stated:

“Both the FCTC and its Protocol are crystal clear that the tobacco industry is part of the problem, not part of the solution. What we share is a battlefield – with the industry on one side and the Convention on the other.”

Article 8.12 of the Protocol specifically states that “obligations assigned to a party shall not be performed by or delegated to the tobacco industry” while Article 5.3 of the FCTC states that “parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.6

INTERPOL’s Apparent Failure to Undertake Due Diligence

INTERPOL’s willingness to enter into an agreement with the tobacco industry would imply it had not undertaken sufficient due diligence for a number of reasons:

  • The project would only really address the problem of counterfeit cigarettes, yet both the tobacco industry’s own data and World Customs Organization data (detailed below) show that there is a significantly greater problem with the tobacco industry’s own product on the illicit market than with counterfeit;78
  • The tobacco industry has a long history of involvement in the illicit tobacco trade; (see TobaccoTactics Resources below). Shortly before INTERPOL entered into this agreement, evidence of the industry’s ongoing involvement in illicit had emerged:

JTI, for example, stood accused of ongoing involvement in cigarette smuggling.9, with whistleblowers from the company claiming it was still involved in large scale cigarette smuggling 10. Investigative journalists also showed that the tobacco companies were massively overproducing cigarettes in Ukraine in the knowledge that they would leak into the illicit market in Europe. 11

In 2014, BAT was also fined £650,000 for oversupplying tobacco in low-tax European jurisdictions. 12

How the INTERPOL Deal Works for the Tobacco Industry

Seizure data compiled by the World Custom’s Organization suggest that counterfeit comprised just 7% of the global illicit market in both 2011 and 2012, compared to 73% and 69%, respectively from tobacco industry cigarettes. As such the INTERPOL deal, which could only address counterfeit, had very limited ability to address the global illicit tobacco trade. There has been no evaluation of the deal that we are aware of, nor evidence that it has done anything to constructively address the illicit tobacco trade.

Instead, the deal served the tobacco industry’s interests in a number of ways:

  • It promoted the idea that counterfeiting is the major problem in the illicit market, an issue the tobacco industry repeatedly emphasises and which was highlighted in PMI’s press release announcing the deal.
  • It promoted the idea that the tobacco industry is part of the solution to the illicit tobacco trade rather than part of the problem as overwhelming evidence, including the very high level of smuggled tobacco company product, indicates.
  • By signalling INTERPOL’s support, it promotes the tobacco industry’s product, Codentify, as a solution to the illicit trade despite its limitations, the fact that it primary purpose is to spot counterfeit, and the fact that the Illicit Trade Protocol precludes involvement of the tobacco industry.
  • Indeed, to this end, internal documents from BAT from 2012, reveal that INTERPOL was one of the key “stakeholder groups” that the tobacco company was going to target to help “proactively shape regulation” surrounding track and trace systems and digital coding verification, such as Codentify. 13

INTERPOL’s rejected application for Observer Status at the Conference of the Parties

In November 2012, INTERPOL applied for observer status at the COP 5 , 14 where the Illicit Trade Protocol was being finalized (as detailed above). Given the organisation’s links with the tobacco industry, the Conference of the Parties deferred consideration of its application, tasking the COP Bureau with investigating the issue further. The Bureau reported back at COP 6 (held in Moscow, October 2014) 15 where a decision was made to reject its request for observer status. 16

Leaked Philip Morris documents note how this rejection was unanimous amongst the Parties to the Convention: “INTERPOL’s application for ‘observer status’ to the CoP was rejected. Countries that were most vocal in opposing the application included the EU, Kenya (on behalf of AFRO), Oman (on behalf of EMRO), Maldives (on behalf of SEARO), Panama and Costa Rica. Concerns expressed were primarily focused on INTERPOL’s relationship with PMI and the application of 5.3. No Party spoke in support of granting the application.” 17

INTERPOL Deal Expired in June 2015

The three year deal ran from July 2012 to 2015 and was not renewed. 18

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

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  1. INTERPOL,Overview, Website, Accessed July 2017
  2. abcL Joossens, A Gilmore, The transnational tobacco companies’ strategy to promote Codentify, their inadequate tracking and tracing standard, Tobacco Control, 2013, 23, e3-e6
  3. INTERPOL, Five Largest Contributors in 2015, Website, Accessed July 2017
  4. World Health Organization, Decision FCTC/COP 5(1) Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Fifth Session, Seoul, 12–17 November 2012
  5. A. Gilmore, G. Fooks, J. Drope, S. Bialous, R. R. Jackson, Exposing and addressing tobacco industry conduct in low-income and middle-income countries, Lancet, 2015, 385(9972): 1029–1043
  6. V. da Costa e Silva,EU tobacco control policy must separate foxes from chickens, EU Observer, 23 February 2016
  7. World Customs Organization. Illicit Trade Report 2012, Brussels: WCO, 2013.
  8. A. Gilmore, A. Rowell, S. Gallus, et al, Towards a greater understanding of the illicit tobacco trade in Europe: a review of the PMI funded ‘Project Star’ report, Tobacco Control, 2013;23:e51-e61
  9. J. Solomon, EU probes cigarette deal that may have aided Syria, The Wall Street Journal, 21 August 2012, accessed December 2012
  10. J. Holland, B. Jovanović , S. Dojčinović, Big trouble at Big Tobacco: Tales of smugglers, mobsters and hackers, Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
  11. Vlad Lavrov, Ukraine’s ‘lost’ cigarettes flood Europe, Public Integrity, 29 June 2009, Accessed July 2017
  12. Jamie Doward, BAT fined for oversupplying tobacco in low-tax European jurisdictions, The Observer, 16 November 2014
  13. BAT, Supply Chain Tracking and Verification, EEMA: Strategy Update, 18 October 2012
  14. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Fifth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC, Website, accessed July 2017
  15. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, INTERPOL’s application for the status of observer to the Conference of the Parties – Report by the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties, 13–18 October 2014, Accessed July 2017
  16. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Report of the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, 13–18 October 2014, Section 2.20, accessed July 2017
  17. Chris-Koddermann, Email from Philip Morris, Leaked to Reuters, 13 October 2014, Accessed July 2017
  18. INTERPOL,Five Largest Contributors in 2015, Website, Accessed July 2017