Illicit tobacco valued at around $40-million has been seized and destroyed by authorities in Queensland following a raid near Toowomba, about 120km from Brisbane.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) said it executed a warrant earlier this week in conjunction with the Queensland Police Service and uncovered a 10-acre crop of mature tobacco weighing around 25 tonnes.
The ATO is responsible for detecting, investigating and prosecuting those who domestically grow or manufacture illicit tobacco products.
Illicit tobacco is not a victimless crime
ATO Assistant Commissioner, Ian Read, said engaging in the illicit tobacco trade was not victimless. It significantly deprived the community of taxes required to fund essential community services such as roads and schools.
“The trade of illicit tobacco products in Australia has widespread negative consequences across the community.
“Tobacco-growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised criminal syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities,” Read explained.
“Organised criminals who deal in illicit tobacco rob the Australian community by using their profits to fund their criminal behaviour well beyond the sale of illegal tobacco.”
Watch for tell-tale signs of tobacco crops
When it comes to the public detecting illicit tobacco-growing activities, Read said signs to look out for include intense labour production between November and May, suspicious enquiries about land for lease, and unexplained use of water resources.
“Mature tobacco plants can be up to 2.5 metres tall, have large green leaves and long trumpet-shaped white-pinkish flowers, and may resemble kale, cabbage or corn,” Read said.
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 ATO estimates that illicit tobacco costs the Australian community $822-million in lost revenue each year.
The ATO is part of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, which comprises various agencies responsible for detecting, disrupting and dismantling serious organised crime syndicates that deal in illicit tobacco.