Industry Insights

Illicit Trade in Türkiye in times of Earthquake

How the recent devastation has impacted smuggling routes

Türkiye is known as one of the largest counterfeit manufacturers in the world. However, counterfeiting is not the only problem found there when it comes to brand protection. Parallel trade and smuggling activities between Türkiye and nearby countries are also rampant. 

The seizure value of smuggled products in Türkiye has been growing exponentially. In 2021, the Minister of Commerce Mehmet Muş stated that customs enforcement teams seized smuggled goods worth 7.7 Billion Turkish lira (approximately €360 million) – an increase of 749% compared to the previous year. See source.

Then in 2022, during the first nine months of the year alone, a total of 8.8 billion Turkish lira (€420 million) worth of smuggled goods, including cigarettes, macaroons and tobacco, were seized. See source.

Türkiye-Syria border: one of the most renowned smuggling routes

Over the last decade, the southern and eastern regions of Türkiye have become renowned for the smuggling of products to and from the Middle East, with the most dangerous of these products being alcohol, medicine, tobacco and drugs.

On 6 February 2023, the south-central region of Türkiye and Syria were struck by two earthquakes of 7.8 and 7.6 magnitude, destroying cities, roads, and communication systems, and taking many people’s lives. The earthquake-hit area is presented on the map below.

This tragic event has raised a lot of questions within the brand protection sector:

Is the Türkiye-Syria smuggling route now closed as a result of the devastation?
Will smugglers find a new way – or ways – to smuggle products into and out of Türkiye?
Are smugglers benefiting from this tragedy? While gendarmerie, military forces and customs lost no time in increasing border controls in the affected region – primarily to prevent armed terrorists and smuggled drugs and weapons from entering Türkiye – the volatile security situation in the region may have facilitated the flow of smuggled goods. 
Has it become easier to move products in and out of the country, given that the authorities may be occupied with other activities in the region?
Are we going to lose years of illicit trade intelligence on this region? Will new investigations need to be conducted to determine if the smuggling route is still active?
In time, these questions will be answered, but based on research already carried out by ApiraSol, it is clear that the smuggling trade in Türkiye is not only alive and well, but is continuing to soar.

ApiraSol has also found that many bad actors from the earthquake zone have preferred moving to other cities in the country, where they can re-open and grow their business. Such a development calls for further investigation.

Breakdown of products smuggled and seized in 2021:

The graph below demonstrates the number of operations carried out in 2021 against the smuggling of products and legal actions taken against the suspects:

Commodity products subjected to smuggling in 2021:

Electronic goods
Food products
Cars and auto spare parts
Pharmaceuticals and medical devices
Precious stones and metals
Miscellaneous goods

Provinces where smuggled products were seized differ according to product category:

Electronic Goods

Food products

Pharmaceutical and medical devices


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