Over 39 million illicit cigarettes seized in Melbourne

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has detected and seized over 39 million illicit cigarettes in one week in Melbourne.

The Hon Jason Wood MP, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, said the 39 million cigarettes are worth over $40 million in evaded duty and their importations are being further investigated by the ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF).

“The profits from the illegal sale of 39 million cigarettes has not made it into the pockets of organised crime,” Assistant Minister Wood said.

“Australians who buy illicit tobacco should be aware that the proceeds of these sales are supporting a market dominated by criminal syndicates that use the profits from illicit tobacco to fund other illegal activities.”

The detections arrived via sea cargo shipments and were x-rayed revealing inconsistencies with the import declarations. The shipment declared as synthetic grass which contained 20 million cigarettes was not concealed in any way, whilst a second tobacco shipment declared as glass bottles was concealed behind a cover load and contained 19 million cigarettes.

Assistant Minister Wood said these detections were another example of the ABF’s commitment to disrupting the supply of illicit tobacco.

“Since its establishment the ITTF has effected the seizure of over 67 tonnes of smuggled tobacco and approximately 230 million smuggled cigarettes, protecting more than $264 million in duty.” Assistant Minister Wood said.

“We know that established organised crime groups are diversifying their commodities to include illicit tobacco as it is perceived as a low risk/high reward activity. New organised crime groups are emerging that purely focus on illicit tobacco importation and distribution. To tackle this growing problem the ITTF is positioning itself to identify threats before they arrive at the border to disrupt the flow of illicit tobacco to Australia.”

The ITTF was established in response to recommendations made by the Black Economy Taskforce to develop an innovative whole-of-government strategy to combat tobacco smuggling. It embodies a coordinated whole-of-government approach that draws together the expertise, capabilities and powers of partners to safeguard the Australian Community from the significant threat posed by illicit tobacco and the criminals who profit from it.

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

People with information about the illicit importation of tobacco should contact Border Watch at www.Australia.gov.au/borderwatch. By reporting suspicious activities, you help protect Australia’s border. Information can be provided anonymously.

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