Illicit Tobacco Taskforce targets international and domestic tobacco smuggling rings

The Australian Border Force (ABF) led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) 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 first operation occurred on Wednesday and Thursday this week (10 & 11 March 2021) when ABF officers from the ITTF executed Customs Act 1901 search and seizure warrants at a number of residential and commercial properties in suburban Melbourne.

The targets 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.

Additionally, on Thursday, ABF Investigators in Perth intercepted a 45 year-old man when he attended a Kewdale 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 located in the van the man was driving.

The estimated value of duty evaded on that amount of cigarettes is $595,944.

The van was also seized by the investigating officers.

The man has been charged with one count of Possess in excess of 100 kilograms of tobacco in Australia whereby the excise duty or customs duty has not been paid, under Section 308-15(1) of the Tax Administration Act 1953.

He appeared in the Perth Magistrates Court yesterday, Friday 12 March, and was granted conditional bail to reappear in the same court on 9 April 2021.

This week’s investigations follow recent successful ITTF operations in regional Victoria and New South Wales, involving ABF, ATO, NSW Police and Victoria Police, which resulted in the seizure and destruction of $84.3 million of illicit tobacco.

Special Investigations Commander, Greg Linsdell said that targeting and dismantling the black market tobacco trade and associated criminal activities remains an operational priority for the ITTF.

“The sale of illicit tobacco significantly deprives the community and legitimate businesses of income, and places the money in the hands of criminal organisations,” Commander Linsdell said.

“Proceeds support a market dominated by organised crime groups that use the profits from illicit tobacco to fund other illegal activities.

“In some instances, funds from the illicit tobacco trade are laundered offshore that may be supporting overseas criminal networks.”

The Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, Jason Wood, acknowledged the dedicated work of the investigation teams in both States.

“The Australian Government is committed to combatting the illicit tobacco trade, and recognises it as a whole-of-Government problem which is being tackled on multiple fronts,” Assistant Minister Wood said.

“The ITTF is at the forefront of that battle, and thankfully is having considerable success.

“It’s estimated the illicit tobacco market in Australia is worth in excess of $800 million a year in evaded revenue.”

The ITTF was established to investigate, prosecute and dismantle international organised crime groups who use the proceeds of illicit tobacco to fund other criminal activity.

It combines the operational, investigative and intelligence capabilities of the ABF, Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).