AUTHORITIES have disrupted a serious organised crime syndicate and seized almost 60 million cigarettes bound for Australia’s black market in a major joint agency operation.
The complex investigation began in June last year following a tip-off to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and involved both state and federal authorities.
Since then, fifty-seven-million cigarettes reportedly shipped down-under from South East Asia have been seized at the border.
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In a statement, the Australian Border Force said the smokes were detected in ten shipments, ranging from 38,000 cigarettes to more than 20 million in each consignment.
“Some were concealed among legitimate goods while others filled entire shipping containers that were deliberately declared as other items,” the statement said.
In total, the cigarettes are said to be worth more than $40 million in evaded duty.
On March 1 this year, two men – a 68-year-old from Mermaid Waters and a 55-year-old from NSW – were arrested on the Gold Coast in relation to the investigation.
They have each since been charged one count of money laundering and are both due to reappear in Southport Magistrates Court on July 17.
ABF Superintendent Leo Lahey from the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce said the operation was an example of what can be achieved when state, federal and international agencies worked together.
“These seizures also highlight the critical need to combat the illicit tobacco trade,” Superintendent Lahey said.
“This work will be tasked to the new multi-agency ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Task Force which was stood up this week.
“Working collaboratively across agencies in this way will always be critical to success.”
The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce combines the resources of the ABF, Department of Home Affairs, ACIC, the Australian Taxation Office, AUSTRAC and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
ACIC Queensland State Manager Charlie Carver said serious and organised crime groups are more attracted to the Australian illicit tobacco market than ever before.
“Organised crime has no borders and these significant results demonstrate the benefits of state, territory and Commonwealth agencies working together,” Mr Carver said.
The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years imprisonment, and penalties of up to five times the amount of duty evaded can also be imposed by the courts.
People with information about the illicit importation of tobacco should contact Border Watch.