The US Department of Justice on Wednesday charged two former executives of tobacco giants Philip Morris International (PMI) and Reynolds American with racketeering and other crimes, including the smuggling of illegal tobacco products into the United States.
The charges stem from an investigation that the Justice Department opened in January.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the charges, which were announced at a news conference in Washington.
The DOJ said in a statement that the case, which involves former PMI president David McAllister and a former executive vice president of Reynolds American, “is not about tobacco or marijuana but about corrupt conduct that undermines the integrity of the American people’s access to affordable, high-quality tobacco products.”
The charges are part of a broader investigation by the Justice department that began in January into how the companies and their executives illegally diverted more than $1.3 billion from the tobacco industry and diverted millions of dollars from the US Treasury into their own pockets.
Reynolds is the world’s largest tobacco company.
The Justice Department said in March that PMI executives McAllisters brother, Peter, and two other men had taken more than 4,500 shipments of cigarettes into the US in the last 12 months.
The investigation, which began after the 2016 fatal shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, was led by a team of FBI agents and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
The indictment was announced as the Justice’s investigation into how tobacco companies and executives are using government money to finance their businesses continues to intensify.
In a separate indictment unsealed Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged McAllis brother David, a former vice president at Reynolds, with racketeer activity and conspiracy to commit racketeering.
The former vice chairman and chairman of PMI’s tobacco division pleaded not guilty.
He was also charged with wire fraud and mail fraud.
The other former executive at Reynolds was charged with conspiracy to engage in wire fraud, mail fraud and racketeering as part of the probe.
Reynolds has been facing multiple lawsuits from the Justice for allegedly misappropriating the company’s funds for personal use.
In addition to McAlls brother, David Mcallister is also accused of a conspiracy to conceal payments of more than 2.3 million dollars in tobacco sales taxes to his personal accounts.
In October 2016, the Justice announced that it had joined an ongoing investigation of Reynolds.
According to the DOJ, McAlli s brother and the other executives used PMI funds for their own personal purposes.
“They laundered the money to avoid taxes and used it to buy luxury goods, including a $1,400 golf bag,” Lynch said at the time.
PMI and Reynolds declined to comment on the charges.
The two companies were also the subject of an investigation by US Attorney Paul Fishman last month.
In February, the DOJ filed charges against another former PMID executive, Thomas Pritchard, who is also charged in the case.
Pritcher is a former VP of sales and marketing for the company.
He is accused of concealing more than 1.8 million dollars from a US tax payer through a series of shell companies, including one in Ireland.
The government said Pritchers activities were part of an elaborate scheme to hide payments from the Treasury Department.
“The defendants and the conspirators knew that the funds would be used to buy personal luxuries, including luxury goods for themselves and their families, and then to avoid paying taxes on those gifts,” the government said in the complaint.
The United States has been at war with the tobacco companies for decades.
The tobacco industry has long been a target of US anti-tobacconist crusaders, with some former officials and current executives linked to tobacco conspiracies.
The companies have also been accused of helping to finance terrorists and other violent criminals.
Last month, the government announced it would seek to recover more than one million dollars seized by the US government in a seizure of tobacco-related cash.
The US Attorney for the Northern District of California said in October that it is still investigating the seizure and that it will continue to prosecute those who used the tobacco money to support terrorism.
The seizure is the first time the US has taken over the assets of a company in the tobacco business since the 1990s.