POLICE have smashed a tobacco importation and money laundering syndicate in Melbourne, arresting six Chinese nationals – four men and two women – and seizing almost $1 million in cash.
The group was arrested at a house in Templestowe on Monday as part of Operation Hermoor.
In the six months between February 10 and August 13 this year, it’s alleged the syndicate imported 2.5 million cigarettes and in doing so, evaded paying approximately $1.75 million in duty and excise.
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The cigarettes were allegedly concealed within boxes of tiles and shipped to Australia in four separate consignments before being sent to a warehouse in Notting Hill.
It’s further alleged the syndicate laundered at least $11 million for suspected Australian based criminals.
Following the group’s arrest on Monday, Feeral Police raided both addresses at Templestowe and Notting Hill and seized $775,000 in cash.
It will be alleged $750,000 of the cash was collected in Sydney and driven back down to the Templestowe address by the two women on Monday morning.
The four men have been charged with proceeds of crime offences and tobacco smuggling offences while the two women have been charged with proceeds of crime offences only.
The alleged offenders were scheduled to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court today.
The maximum penalty for the proceeds of crime offences is 20-years imprisonment.
Commander ABF Special Investigations Susan Black said the operation highlights the links between illicit tobacco importation and other serious criminal activity.
“The ABF is leading the newly established Illicit Tobacco Taskforce that is focused on targeting, disrupting and dismantling criminal syndicates who trade in illicit tobacco,” Commander Black said.
“Working closely with our ITTF partners and our state and federal police colleagues we are having a real impact on the $600 million-dollar-a-year illicit tobacco market and stopping evaded revenue being funnelled back into the pockets of organised crime syndicates.”
AFP Superintendent Krissy Barrett National Coordinator Money Laundering said following money laundering leads we are identify other crime types.
“By identifying and pursuing leads associated with money laundering the AFP was able to very successfully track those involved in organised criminal activity, predominantly trafficking of illicit substances such as tobacco, but also financing of other criminal enterprises,” Superintendent Barrett said.
“The timely sharing of information by the Xiamen Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau under the supervision of the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of General Administration of China Customs was critical to the successful outcomes achieved here in Australia.
“This partnership is another demonstration of how international coalitions, such as those with Chinese authorities under Taskforce Blaze, are able to effectively disrupt criminal syndicates targeting Australia.”