Jail for masterminds of record WA cigarette importation

The two masterminds behind an attempt to smuggle a record-breaking 9.5 million cigarettes into Western Australia from Vietnam have been sentenced to almost five years jail.

The importation remains the biggest illicit cigarette detection in WA, and represents an attempt to evade more than $8.5 million in Duty and GST.

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers intercepted the consignment at the Fremantle Container Examination Facility on 31 October 2018.

Anomalies were identified when the 40-foot container was x-rayed and an ABF detector dog also gave a reaction indicating the presence of tobacco.

The physical examination of the container revealed an initial layer of boxes of plastic panels, but behind that officers found the rest of it packed full of boxes of cigarettes manufactured in South East Asia.

The final count was 47,500 cartons of cigarettes, worth more than $7.66 million in evaded duty and $862,000 of GST.

On 16 November 2020, the two men, who are cousins aged 31 and 38, each pleaded guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court to one count of Importing Tobacco Products with the Intention of Defrauding the Revenue under section 233BABAD (2A) of the Customs Act 1901.

On the same day, a third man, aged 47, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of importing goods, being tobacco products, being reckless as to whether there would be defrauding of the revenue, contrary to s 233BABAD(2A) of the Customs Act 1901.

On 19 November 2020, he was sentenced in the Perth District Court to two years and four months jail, but released forthwith on a $3,000 recognisance to be of good behaviour for a period of two years.

Today in the Perth District Court the two masterminds were each jailed for four years and ten months, with a minimum period of two years before becoming eligible for parole.

ABF Acting Commander of Operations West, Felicity Horrocks, acknowledged the combined efforts of the officers at the container examination facility who made the detection, and the investigators who pulled together the brief of evidence.

“This was a big case by every measure, with investigators executing 12 warrants in the 10 months following the detection,” Acting Commander Horrocks said.

“As we’ve said many times before, tobacco and cigarette smuggling is not a victimless crime – with profits from illegal sales in Australia often being used to fund other criminal activity both here and overseas.

“Detecting, investigating and disrupting the illegal tobacco trade is an operational priority for the ABF.”

The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

Last financial year (2019/20) the ABF seized more than 177 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco and 422 million cigarettes, with the amount of duty evaded totalling some $611 million.

The ABF continues to implement illicit tobacco measures as part of its frontline border law enforcement and customs activities to protect the integrity of Australia’s borders and through its leadership of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF).

The ITTF brings together the ABF, the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.

The ITTF enhances the whole-of-government response by proactively targeting, disrupting and dismantling criminal syndicates dealing in illicit tobacco.

Anyone with information on the illegal importation of illicit tobacco is encouraged to contact Border Watch at www.australia.gov.au/borderwatch. This can be done anonymously.

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