Two men have been arrested and charged by Australian Border Force (ABF) officers over an alleged illicit tobacco smuggling operation based in Melbourne’s East.
Following an initial detection at the Melbourne Container Examination Facility of 1.2 million illicit cigarettes in a consignment from Malaysia, ABF officers identified a further five consignments allegedly linked to the same criminal syndicate.
On Thursday 21 June, ABF investigators executed a warrant at a property in Burwood East. A further 137,000 cigarettes and small quantity of “ice” was located at the property.
So far nearly 3 million cigarettes have been seized, worth approximately $2.25 million in evaded revenue.
ABF officers arrested a 31-year-old Australian national and a 29-year-old Chinese national and both were charged with illicit tobacco offences under the Customs Act 1901.
The Chinese national had arrived in Australia on a tourist visa in June and allegedly fraudulently obtained a Victorian Learner Permit and registered a business using another name.
ABF Commander Investigations, Graeme Grosse, said the operation highlights the extent of the criminality involved in the illicit tobacco market.
“People may think buying a cheap packet of cigarettes under the counter is harmless enough, but the people involved in this industry are serious criminals, in this case with potential links to illicit drugs and identity fraud,” Commander Grosse said.
“The ABF will not tolerate anyone, Australian citizens or foreign nationals, profiting from the illicit importation of tobacco and evasion of revenue. This is why we have made illicit tobacco a priority through our Tobacco Strike Team and why we are now standing up the multi-agency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce.”
“The Taskforce will be specifically targeting high-value syndicates in the illicit market and pursuing the groups involved in these imports, whether they are here or off-shore. Illicit tobacco is big business and we know that a lot of the profits are going to fund other criminal exploits in Australia, and further up the international supply chain,” Commander Grosse said.
Both men appeared at Melbourne Magistrates Court. The Australian national faced court and was released under strict bail conditions including the surrender of his passport. The Chinese national was remanded in custody. Both men are to reappear on Thursday 27 September.
The men face up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.