The Australian Border Force (ABF) has stopped more than 400 tonnes of illicit tobacco from reaching the black market since its establishment in 2015.

The total duty evaded on the illicit tobacco is estimated at more than $294 million.

In the same period, more than 100 individuals have been charged with tobacco smuggling offences under the Customs Act 1901.

This includes the recent arrest of two Chinese nationals following the detection of more than 7.4 million cigarettes at the Sydney Container Examination Facility (CEF). The duo allegedly attempted to conceal the cigarettes within table tops. The total duty evaded is approximately $5 million.

In an unrelated seizure, a further 31 tonnes of tobacco concealed within hessian bags was detected at the Sydney CEF in April 2017. Investigations into this detection are continuing.

ABF Assistant Commissioner Wayne Buchhorn said illicit tobacco can be sold at more than 60 times its offshore price. He said the ABF will continue to target, disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups involved in illicit tobacco smuggling.

“Illicit tobacco is an increasingly attractive market to organised criminal syndicates due to the lucrative profits that can be made in evaded tax,” Assistant Commissioner Buchhorn said.

“We’re aware that these profits are often funnelled back into traditional organised crime activities, such as the illicit drugs trade. This is one of the key reasons we’re taking such an active role, not just here, but with our neighbours too.”

The ABF has recently run a number of workshops with its international partners to help focus regional efforts, and build on its already strong information-sharing and operational collaboration to tackle the illicit tobacco trade.

In October 2015, the ABF formed a Tobacco Strike Team (TST) to combat organised criminal syndicates attempting to smuggle illicit tobacco into Australia.

Based on its early successes, in May 2016 the Australian Government announced $7.7 million in funding for the TST over the following two years.

“The Tobacco Strike Team works closely with intelligence teams, investigative units and with domestic and international partners and collectively the agency is seeing record results,” Assistant Commissioner Buchhorn said.

“The ABF’s increased illicit tobacco detection rates over the past two years is not just a short-term strike against the illicit tobacco trade, it’s a proactive and ongoing enforcement approach to border protection.

Illicit tobacco can be imported in cigarette, loose leaf and molasses form and across all border streams, including international mail, air and sea cargo, and the traveller stream.

To detect these illicit consignments, ABF officers use a wide variety of technologies, including x-ray, a range of sophisticated substance and trace detection capabilities and detector dogs. Officers also perform physical inspections and often deconstruct consignments if it is suspected that they may be harbouring prohibited items.”

Tobacco smuggling is a criminal offence that denies the Commonwealth legitimate revenue and funds organised crime. The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years imprisonment. Pecuniary penalties of up to five times the amount of duty evaded can also be imposed by the courts.

People with information about the importation of illicit tobacco or other illicit goods should contact Border Watch at Information can be provided anonymously.