100,000 Cuban cigars found at O'Hare

December 6, 2010 (CHICAGO)

In this Intelligence Report: How the cigar seizure is connected to a recent crackdown on terrorists.

The importation of Cuban cigars to the United States has been illegal since 1963, even though third party countries are not exempt. Over the years, the appetite for Cubans has been so strong -- and the markup so high -- that even drug traffickers have smuggled illegal cigars along the narco-routes.

Now, a new wrinkle in the government's war on Cuban cigars: An unintended fallout from the war on terror.

While Customs agents at the O'Hare mail facility were scanning packages that had arrived on European cargo flights, they spotted cigars. When officers opened one package, they found illegal Cuban cigars that had been sent from a retailer in Europe.

That was the beginning of what authorities now call a record seizure of Cuban cigars, whose importation is banned by a federal trade embargo against Cuba.

Until early November these small packages would probably have been shipped on passenger jetliners from Europe and have escaped such close scrutiny. But, after al Qaeda terrorists sent package bombs addressed to Chicago synagogues, U.S. Homeland Security officials banned packages over 16-ounces from being shipped on passenger jets.

According to Customs officials in Chicago, the result has been an increase in mail from Europe shipping on air cargo planes, including illegal Cuban cigars.

In this case, the cigars were from suppliers in Switzerland.

But there are dozens of foreign realties that sell contraband Cuban cigars to Americans. One, discovered Monday by the I-Team in Spain insists, "We ship Cuban cigars to the USA in their original sealed boxes and deliveries are guaranteed against Custom seizures."

It is likely that the Swiss suppliers of these packages made similar promises. The buyers of these items will soon receive notices that their packages were seized by Customs officials in the U.S. Authorities say they will not be charged.

Federal authorities say they would consider criminal charges against any U.S. retailer that imported Cuban cigars, but so far it appears all these were individual buyers who wanted the cigars for their own use or to give as Christmas gifts.

Customs officials say they plan to incinerate the cigars in a blast furnace.

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