Four men and two women have been arrested, and nearly $1 million in cash seized, dismantling an alleged tobacco importation and money laundering syndicate in Melbourne.
The four men aged 21, 21, 43 and 48 and the two women aged 35 and 44, all Chinese Nationals, were arrested on Monday (13 August 2018) at a residence in the Melbourne suburb of Templestowe.
Operation Hermoor began in February this year when Australian Border Force (ABF) investigators identified an illegal tobacco importing network. Further investigations by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) identified the four men as allegedly being key operators of a criminal syndicate which is laundering the proceeds of crime for suspected Australian based criminals.
It will be alleged the men and women have been involved in multiple cash collections, suspected to be the proceeds of crime. Police have identified at least $11 million laundered between 10 February and 13 August 2018.
Since February, four shipping consignments have been allegedly sent to a warehouse in Notting Hill with illegal tobacco concealed within boxes of tiles. ABF alleges the syndicate, through their tobacco smuggling operation, illegally imported approximately 2.5 million cigarettes and evaded the payment of duty and excise to the Australian Government in the amount of approximately $1.75 million.
Following the arrests on Monday, AFP officers conducted search warrants at the Templestowe address and a warehouse in Notting Hill, seizing $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 on Monday (13 August 2018) by the two women.
The four men have been charged proceeds of crime offences pursuant to s400.4(1) and s400.9(1) of the Criminal Code, and tobacco smuggling offences pursuant to s233BABAD of the Customs Act 1901, while the women have been charged with proceeds of crime offences only.
The maximum penalty for the proceeds of crime offences is 20-years imprisonment. The alleged offenders are scheduled to appear before the Melbourne Magistrates Court today (16 August 2018).
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.
“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,” Commander Black said.
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,” Superintendent Barrett said.