A MAN who orchestrated the import of three million cigarettes into Melbourne in a shipping container has been sentenced to jail.

The Australian Border Force launched an investigation after a large haul of illegal cigarettes and tobacco was detected at the Melbourne container examination facility in October 2020.

The goods arrived from the Middle East and had been declared as vacuum cleaners, spanners, fan parts, pliers and measuring instruments.

ABF officers noticed a strong smell of tobacco when they opened the container.

The consignment contained 320 cardboard boxes and 15 rolls of Persian rugs.

Inside the boxes were three million sticks of Manchester cigarettes and around 600 kilograms of Al-Faker molasses tobacco. ABF said the duty evaded from the import was more than $4.2 million.

Investigations revealed the man used a fake email address to pay for the import and arrange for a logistics company to deliver the goods to a Tullamarine storage facility.

He is suspected of using the fake email to appear as an employee of a legitimate company to arrange the movement of the illegal tobacco.

The ABF found the man had attended the storage facility on 7 October 2020 to request space for a 20-foot container, which was to be delivered the following day.

The ABF carried out search warrants and arrested a Bundoora man.

He man told authorities in an interview he was a delivery driver who had received a request several days earlier to complete an unloading job.

During their investigation, the ABF had seized several electronic devices containing evidence of the illicit importation.

The man appeared at the County Court of Victoria on 5 December 2022 to be sentenced for importing and possessing tobacco without the payment of revenue.

He was sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison. He is to be released after 14 months and will be placed on a good behaviour bond for two years.

ABF Superintendent Regional Investigations Uriah Turner said profits from illegal cigarette and tobacco sales in Australia are often used to fund other criminal activity in Australia and overseas.

“We have seen several recent imprisonment sentences here in Victoria relating to illicit tobacco and this should serve as a significant deterrent to those that are involved with this type of activity,” Supt Turner said.

The ABF encouraged anyone with information about the import and export of illicit tobacco and cigarettes to contact Border Watch.