POLICE suspect workers at freight and transport logistics companies in trusted positions were part of an alleged plot to import 10 million illicit cigarettes into Victoria.

Six men, including some with alleged links to a suspected Middle Eastern crime family, were charged on Tuesday (27 February) after a 16-month investigation. 

The men are facing up 10 years’ imprisonment for the alleged importation, which had an estimated value of $15 million.  

It will also be alleged the syndicate attempted to avoid paying millions of dollars in Commonwealth excise. 

It will be alleged the Australian Border Force intercepted 10 million cigarettes in Victoria after arriving on a cargo ship from Vietnam on 3 February. 

Police believe two of the accused had access to internal shipping and transport systems and attempted to manipulate data relating to the illicit tobacco consignment to evade law enforcement detection. 

A Point Cook man is accused of planning and facilitating the criminal tobacco import and using trusted insiders with knowledge of the transport and freight logistics industry to evade detection from law enforcement and subsequent Commonwealth taxes. 

The man allegedly accessed freight forwarding systems to enable the illicit tobacco to be imported without detection. 

A Fraser Rise man is accused of using his position in transport and logistics to assist the syndicate to collect and move the consignment he believed contained the illicit tobacco shipment upon its arrival into Australia. 

Victoria Police Commander Paul O’Halloran said the arrests and seizures highlighted the effort to target organised crime syndicates involved in illicit tobacco. 

“The illicit tobacco market has become a significant driver of organised crime groups particularly here in Victoria, and we have seen an array of serious and violent offending take place due to disputes between these groups as they strive for an increasing market share of profits,” Commander O’Halloran said. 

“In particular, the past 12 months has given rise to a large number of deliberate and reckless arson attacks across a range of business, in particular tobacco retailers.”