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Customs officials this week uncovered a gang suspected of manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes in the Kanot Industrial Zone near Gedera. The gang, whose members come from the center of the country, are suspected of manufacturing and selling millions of shekels worth of counterfeit cigarettes.

The Haifa Magistrate's Court extended the remand of three of the suspects for four days. The gang was uncovered by the tax authorities and Haifa's customs investigation department after an investigation lasting several months.

On Sunday the customs people raided the plant and discovered a production line for making counterfeit cigarettes; brands that were copied included Marlboro, Kent and Parliament.

Machinery for producing and packaging was found along with large quantities of raw materials and hundreds of thousands of packs of cigarettes. The customs people also raided warehouses belonging to the gang.

The major suspects in the group are Arkady Haimov of Azor, Alkoby Haim of Givatayim and Mizrahi Yehuda of Tel Aviv.

Two other suspects, Abayev Bechor of Tel Aviv and Igor Mosheyev of Holon, were arrested and released under restrictions. The gang members are suspected of tax violations and of causing millions of shekels worth of damage to the state.

In addition to the machinery and fictitious receipt books that served as bookkeeping cover, the tax authorities found plates for forging labels on cigarette packs. They also found that the plant was allegedly owned by a man who served as a front. The customs people estimate that every week 100 crates containing 50 cartons of cigarettes each were produced at the plant. The investigators say the trucks bringing raw materials to the factory would drive away with the merchandise and take it to market.

Haifa's tax and customs authorities believe that further people were involved in the ring, so more arrests are expected.