LAW enforcement officers have uncovered a colossal tobacco smuggling operation and seized more than 57m illegal cigarettes, representing more than $40m in evaded duty.
The criminal syndicate shipped illicit tobacco into Australia hidden in consignments of legitimate goods and sometimes the tobacco filled entire shipping containers, declared to contain other items.
The joint operation that smashed the syndicate comprised officers from the ABF, Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), the Queensland Police Service and the NSW Police Force.
In June 2017 ACIC received information about the criminal syndicate that was carrying out the tobacco smuggling, as well as money laundering.
The syndicate, which authorities say has links to South East Asia, was operating in multiple states and territories.
After the discovery, authorities carried out ten seizures ranging from 38,000 cigarettes to more than 20m in each consignment.
Some were hidden among legitimate goods, while other consignments filled entire shipping containers that were deliberately declared as other items.
ABF Superintendent Leo Lahey from the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce said the operation was an example of what can be achieved when we pool the resources of our state, federal and international law enforcement and intelligence partners.
“These seizures also highlight the critical need to combat the illicit tobacco trade,” he 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,” Superintendent Lahey said.
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,” he said.
Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker of the Queensland Police Service Drug and Serious Crime Group said organised crime syndicates engineer a transnational grab for cash through a combination of legitimate and criminal enterprises.
“We will continue to target and disrupt organised crime groups involved in money laundering as these proceeds are used to distribute illicit commodities causing great harm to our community,” Detective Superintendent Wacker said.
“Engaging in the illegal tobacco trade supports organised crime syndicates and we will exploit every opportunity to dismantle their networks and recover funds and prosecute organised crime syndicates.”
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.