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International smuggling gangs are using the COVID-19 pandemic to expand their criminal empires by exploiting the growing demand for medical products and protective gear, according to experts in illicit trade.

And, the same networks developed to smuggle cigarettes and tobacco are now being used to perpetuate medical and personal protective equipment (PPE) fraud.

“COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have boosted all drivers of illicit trade, and criminals quickly seized opportunities and generate significant amounts of profit,” said Hernan Albamonte, head of Illicit Trade Prevention at Philip Morris International (PMI). [...]