A whopping $84.3-million of illegal tobacco has been seized along the NSW and Victoria border in a two-day blitz involving police from both states and various other enforcement agencies.
The operation disrupted three illicit tobacco growing operations across regional areas and uncovered over 100 acres of illicit tobacco with a combined potential excise value of more than $84-million. All of the tobacco seized has subsequently been destroyed.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade. If convicted, growing tobacco carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment. The illicit tobacco market in Australia is worth about $822-million a year in evaded revenue, authorities stated.
Buying illicit tobacco supports crime syndicates
According to the Australian Border Force, which is one of the agencies involved, buying illicit tobacco is a crime and helps support organised crime groups which undertake other serious criminal activities that harm Australian society.
“The growing of tobacco in Australia often involves the illegal sourcing of water, which undermines legitimate farmers and Government sustainability measures,” said ABF Assistant Commissioner Phil Brezzo.
The ABF leads a multi-agency taskforce known as the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF).
First taskforce raids in Kyalite, New South Wales
On 3 March enforcement officers located 65 acres of tobacco crops in Kyalite, New South Wales. The operation saw the seizure and destruction of over 183 tonnes of illicit tobacco with a potential excise value of approximately $36-million.
The NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator also participated in order to investigate possible water theft offences.
On the same day, authorities located 29.3 acres of illicit tobacco crops in Beverford, Victoria. Officers seized and destroyed a similar quantity of crops and 140kg of processed tobacco bales with a potential excise value of more than $36.3 million.
One of biggest weeks ever for the taskforce
The following day, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Victoria Police raided a property in Vinifera, Victoria where they located approximately 13 acres of illicit tobacco crops with a potential excise value of $12-million. They seized and destroyed over 60.7 tonnes of tobacco.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said it was one of the biggest weeks the taskforce has ever had in terms of disrupting illicit tobacco-growing operations in the country.
“[These] operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised crime syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities to fund their extravagant lifestyles and other criminal activity,” Read said.