Three linked Australian Border Force (ABF) operations have resulted in the arrests of five men for allegedly importing more than 14 million cigarettes into Melbourne.
The ABF Tobacco Strike Team, with assistance from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) began investigating the individuals following earlier arrests by ABF of other syndicate members earlier this year.
The men aged 23, 27, 29, 23 and 37 were arrested and charged with the importation of tobacco products, knowing that the goods were imported with the intention of defrauding revenue, in contravention of section 233BABAD of the Customs Act 1901.
The men appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court on 14 and 16 August and were remanded in custody. They are due to reappear at Melbourne Magistrates Court on 6 November 2017.
It is estimated the cigarettes would have been worth about $9 million on the illicit market. The total amount of duty evaded by their illegal importation is also estimated to be about $9 million.
On 29 July 2017, ABF officers at the Melbourne Container Examination Facility (CEF) examined a consignment totalling eight million cigarettes in relation to this operation.
On 4 August 2017, ABF officers at the Melbourne CEF examined an additional two separate consignments totalling more than six million cigarettes in relation to this operation.
Superintendent Investigations Victoria, Craig Palmer, said the ABF has seized more than 400 tonnes of tobacco since its establishment and these seized cigarettes will just continue to increase that number.
“It is clear that these organised crime syndicates aren’t going to stop trying to circumvent the law. The ABF is vigilant and will continue to use our expertise to disrupt and dismantle organised crime syndicates – no matter how you attempt to import illicit tobacco, you will be caught,” Superintendent Palmer said.
“The ABF continues to target illicit tobacco smuggling as a priority, not only does it fund organised crime groups, it continues to rip off legitimate tax payers of Australia by attempting to avoid paying Commonwealth revenue.”
“Not only is smoking a significant health risk, smoking illicit cigarettes poses an even greater risk as the source of the tobacco and the conditions in which it is manufactured are unknown.”
The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Victorian State Manager, Jason Halls said these arrests show that illicit tobacco is an attractive market for organised crime groups in Australia.
“We are committed to working with our partners to connect, discover, understand and respond to the threat and harm caused by these illicit activities.”
People with information about the importation of illicit tobacco or other illicit goods should contact Border Watch at www.border.gov.au/borderwatch. Information can be provided anonymously.