The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) executed warrants late last week at two locations in regional Victoria, seizing 260 tonnes of illicit tobacco.
With the assistance of Victoria Police and the Australian Border Force, ATO officers uncovered 30 acres of mature tobacco at Lake Bolac and almost eight acres of tobacco at Landsborough, with a total excise value of almost $38 million.
There was also a manufacturing facility located during the Landsborough search, including three kilns in use and storage facilities for processed tobacco leaf.
There have now been three seizures in Victoria this month, following the seizure of 47.5 tonnes of illicit tobacco in Nhill with a potential excise value of $7.8 million. That brings the total of tobacco seized in Victoria this month to over 300 tonnes with a potential excise value of over $45 million.
Acting Assistant Commissioner Shane Strong said the community has an important role to play in identifying and reporting suspected illicit tobacco crops.
“We are grateful to the member of the public who reported the Landsborough crop to us, resulting in this seizure of a significant amount of illicit tobacco,” Mr Strong said.
“Public tip offs build on the intelligence we gather from a range of sources and help us to identify, seize and destroy these illicit crops before they are harvested and sold on the black market.”
“The trade in illicit tobacco products in Australia deprives the community of tax revenue that is required to fund essential community services such as hospitals, roads and schools, as well as funding other organised criminal activity.”
The ATO estimates that illicit tobacco costs the Australian community $647 million in lost revenue each year.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade. If convicted, growing tobacco carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years’ jail.
“If you see a crop of tobacco, you can be certain it is not legal. Tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised criminal syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities,” Mr Strong said.
The ATO is part of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF), which was established to investigate, prosecute and dismantle organised crime groups who use the proceeds of illicit tobacco to fund other criminal activity, as well as ensure the appropriate revenue is paid to the Australian Government.
If you suspect that illegal tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community you can confidentially report it online at ato.gov.au/illicittobacco or by calling 1800 060 062.