Following recent successful raids along the NSW-Victoria border that led to the destruction of illegal tobacco crops, the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) announced yesterday (Saturday) that it has disrupted the activities of two alleged organised crime syndicates involved in the importation and distribution of illicit tobacco throughout Victoria and Western Australia.
The Australian Border Force-led taskforce said the first operation occurred on Wednesday and Thursday this week (10 & 11 March) when officers from the ITTF executed Customs Act search and seizure warrants at several residential and commercial properties in suburban Melbourne.
Victorian organised crime syndicate targeted
These allegedly belong to an organised crime syndicate that smuggles illicit molasses tobacco into Melbourne and distributes it throughout Victoria.
During the warrants approximately 1,000 kilograms of molasses tobacco was located and seized, along with jewellery and $100,000 in cash, alleged to be the proceeds of crime.
The estimated value of evaded duty for this amount of tobacco is more than $1.5-million dollars. Investigations are ongoing and charges are expected to follow.
More than 500,000 cigarettes found in Perth
Then, on Thursday, ABF Investigators in Perth intercepted a 45-year-old man when he went to a trucking depot to pick up two pallets of illicit cigarettes allegedly sent by a separate smuggling syndicate based in Victoria.
It will be alleged that 540,000 domestically produced cigarettes containing illegally imported loose-leaf tobacco were in the van the man was driving. The estimated value of duty evaded on that number of cigarettes is $596,000. The van was also seized by the investigating officers.
The man has been charged under the Tax Administration Act and appeared in the Perth Magistrates Court on Friday. He was granted conditional bail to reappear in the same court on 9 April.
Latest actions follow other recent seizures
The investigations follow recent successful ITTF operations in regional Victoria and New South Wales, which resulted in the seizure and destruction of $84.3-million of illicit tobacco.
“The sale of illicit tobacco significantly deprives the community and legitimate businesses of income, and places the money in the hands of criminal organisations,” ABF Special Investigations Commander, Greg Linsdell said.
“Proceeds support a market dominated by organised crime groups that use the profits from illicit tobacco to fund other illegal activities.”