Mark-up that attracts Mr Big

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The Independent Online
THE economics are simple: buy a 24-bottle case of beer in France for about pounds 3 - compared with a UK price of pounds 10 to pounds 12 - and sell it for the bootleg price of pounds 6. Multiply by thousands, and the incentive is clear.

According to Customs officers, the mark-up was noticed very quickly by organised crime gangs. One investigator said: 'Usually, there is a Mr Big at the top to put up the money, then there will be organisers to recruit the couriers, who are often on the dole and prepared to work for very little money and perhaps a case of beer.'

Teams are thought to have rented up to 12 vans at a time, making as many as three trips to France and back. If they are stopped by Customs officers, the couriers say their load is for personal use; they run no personal risk and so are easy to recruit.

Transit-type vans can carry up to 200 cases per journey, making a gross profit for three journeys of pounds 1,800 per van, less rental and ferry crossings.

Compared with drug smuggling the rewards are low, but so are the risks. A kilo of cannabis resin in the Netherlands will cost between pounds 500 and pounds 1,000. Once smuggled into Britain and cut into 35 one-ounce deals at pounds 80- pounds 100 per ounce, profits can reach pounds 2,300 to pounds 2,500 per kilo.

Cocaine, bought abroad for pounds 10,000 to pounds 15,000 a kilo and sold in Britain at pounds 40 to pounds 80 a gramme, depending on purity, will make a dealer pounds 30,000 to pounds 65,000 a kilo.

Profits per kilo of heroin, costing about pounds 10,000 a kilo on the Continent, run at between pounds 50,000 and pounds 90,000.

Customs officers say some drug traffickers have been attracted by the lower risks of beer-smuggling.

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