DrugsNewsOrganised Crime

International cooperation assists in the seizure of smuggled tobacco

Australia’s joint agency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) seized three large shipments of illicit tobacco worth more than $11 million in evaded duty over the holiday period thanks to the strong partnerships it has built with international counterpart agencies.

On Boxing Day, following a tip-off from the Korean Customs Service, and with assistance of Singapore Customs, the Australian Border Force (ABF) led ITTF seized about one million illicit cigarettes from an air cargo shipment as it arrived into Sydney. The cigarettes were mis-declared at the border with an estimated evaded duty of $1 million.

On 27 December, the ITTF was alerted by another overseas partner agency to a shipment arriving into Melbourne that they suspected to be undeclared cigarettes. The ABF examined the container and discovered 9.8 million cigarettes fraudulently declared as ‘dough mixers’, ‘cake fridges’ and ‘freezers’ and the estimated duty evasion was nearly $9 million.

A third large sea cargo shipment arrived into Melbourne from Hong Kong in early January and was found to contain more than 1.5 tonnes of rough-cut tobacco concealed within tabletops. This detection was as a result of information passed on from authorities in Hong Kong and would not have been possible without the cooperation of Hong Kong Customs and Excise. This shipment had an estimated evaded duty value of $1.9 million.

The trade in illicit tobacco is linked to transnational organised crime and plays a role in funding serious criminal enterprises that threaten Australia’s national security and economic prosperity. The ITTF is working closely with international partners and law enforcement agencies that operate across the border continuum to coordinate effective operations to dismantle these criminal enterprises.

“Successful offshore disruption of criminal syndicates who trade in illicit tobacco is only possible through international cooperation and building strong networks overseas,” Acting Commander ABF Special Investigations, Leo Lahey said.

“Effective international partnerships strengthen the ITTF’s detection capabilities and help prevent more illicit tobacco from entering the domestic market.

“The sharing of intelligence with our overseas counterparts assists foreign law enforcement agencies to dismantle the criminal syndicates trading in illicit tobacco,” Acting Commander Leo Lahey added.

The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

People with information about the illicit importation of tobacco; or individuals, businesses or employers who might be facilitating visa fraud or illegal work should contact Border Watch by going to www.Australia.gov.au/borderwatch. By reporting suspicious activities you help protect Australia’s border. Information can be provided anonymously.