Prison time for two men found guilty of illegally importing tobacco

Two men have been sentenced after their two separate attempts to import illicit tobacco products were thwarted by the Australian Border Force (ABF).

On 19th May 2021, a 36-year-old Victorian man was sentenced to two years imprisonment with one year to serve after ABF officers detected multiple consignments containing almost 1.7 million cigarettes. The cigarettes were detected in 2018 concealed within large pieces of commercial metal equipment, with the total duty evaded worth more than $1.4 million.

The Victorian man was found guilty on two charges – attempting to import tobacco products without paying government revenue, and aiding/abetting/counselling/procuring the commission of the import of tobacco products imported without paying government revenue. Both are contrary to the Customs Act 1901.

In addition to the importation, he acquired rental properties through third party entities allowing illicit tobacco to be delivered, unpacked, and distributed throughout the community. He used identification documents, false phone numbers, and bank accounts to transfer money from illicit tobacco purchases offshore.

The unrelated second sentencing occurred on 20th May 2021, and saw a 33-year-old New South Wales man handed two years and three months imprisonment to be released after serving nine months, upon entering into a recognizance in the amount of $200 on the condition that he be of good behaviour for three years. He was sentenced following the attempted importation of 2.16 tonnes of molasses tobacco into NSW in August 2018.

The 90-box consignment of molasses tobacco was valued at nearly $2 million in duty evaded, and was concealed among hair relaxer and fruit juice.

The man was found guilty of importing tobacco products with intent to defraud the revenue contrary to the Customs Act 1901.

ABF Commander Special Investigations Greg Linsdell said these sentences demonstrate the seriousness of the illicit tobacco crimes, which are often linked to serious and organised crime and significant revenue loss.

“The sale of illicit tobacco significantly deprives the community and legitimate businesses of income, so detecting and disrupting the illegal tobacco trade is an operational priority for the ABF,” Commander Linsdell said.

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood echoed Commander Linsdell’s statement.

“These seizures and subsequent sentencings indicate the degree to which ABF officers are equipped with the skills and technology to detect even the most creative and determined of concealments,” Assistant Minister Wood said.

The ABF leads the multiagency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce which is focussed on investigating, prosecuting, and dismantling international organised crime groups who use the proceeds of illicit tobacco to fund other criminal activities.

It combines the operational, investigative, and intelligence capabilities of the ABF, Australian Taxation Office, Department of Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports, and the Analysis Centre and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

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

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