$15 million illicit tobacco bust in Victoria

Six people have been arrested for allegedly attempting to import $15 million of illicit tobacco into Victoria.

Following a 16-month investigation, search warrants were executed on 27 February at a number of businesses and homes in Melbourne’s western suburbs, and the ABF intercepted 10 million cigarettes in Victoria after arriving on a sea cargo ship from Vietnam on 3 February 2024.

It is alleged that several of the men have links to a Melbourne-based Middle Eastern organised crime syndicate, suspected of being behind a series of illicit tobacco imports into Victoria, while two of the accused allegedly had access to internal shipping and transport systems and attempted to manipulate data relating to the illicit tobacco consignment to evade law enforcement detection.

Victoria Police Commander Paul O’Halloran, Crime Command, said these arrests and seizures highlighted the collaborative effort to target those 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.

“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. We have been very clear about the risk this presents to the broader community and the potential for someone to be killed or seriously injured due to these fires.”

A Point Cook man, 45, is accused of planning and facilitating the criminal tobacco import and using trusted insiders with knowledge of the transport and freight logistics industry in a bid to evade detection from law enforcement and subsequent Commonwealth taxes.

Raegan Stewart, AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner, said the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce had dismantled an alleged criminal syndicate attempting to avoid paying millions of dollars in Commonwealth excise through the use of corrupt trusted insiders.

“While ABF is the lead agency responsible for illicit tobacco, the AFP is responsible for targeting transnational serious organised crime.

“The AFP, with our state and Commonwealth law enforcement partners, have zero tolerance for organised crime groups attempting to profit from illicit commodities while sidestepping millions of dollars in tax obligations.”

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