The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) has uncovered more than 100 acres of illegal tobacco along the NSW and regional Victoria border.
The two-day blitz led by the Australian Border Force (ABF) disrupted three illicit tobacco growing operations with a combined potential value of $84.3 million.
Officers from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), the ABF and NSW Police, located 65 acres of tobacco crops in Kyalite, NSW on 3 March. ITTF seized and destroyed more than 183 tonnes of crops from this property with an estimated street value of around $36 million.
A further 29.3 acres of illicit tobacco crops were located in Beverford, Victoria on the same day by ATO officers and Victoria Police, as part of an ITTF operation.
ATO officers seized and destroyed 183 tonnes of tobacco crops and 140kg processed tobacco bales, with a potential value of more than $36.3 million.
On day two of the blitz, the ATO and Victoria Police located around 13 acres of illicit tobacco crops at a property in Vinifera, Victoria. Here ATO officers seized and destroyed more than 60.7 tonnes of illicit tobacco with a potential value of $12 million.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said this was one of the biggest weeks ever of disrupting illicit tobacco growing operations in Australia.
“I urge people to keep reporting any activity they suspect may involve the production of illicit tobacco. 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.
“Signs to look out for include intense labour production between November and May, suspicious enquiries about land for lease, unexplained use of water resources and large crops of leafy plants that resemble kale, cabbage or corn and may have a pink flower growing on top.”
ABF Assistant Commissioner South and Enforcement, Phil Brezzo said the ITTF is committed to targeting, disrupting and dismantling the illicit tobacco trade and their associated criminal activities.
“Buying illicit tobacco is a crime. It also supports organised crime groups to undertake other serious criminal activities that harm Australian society,” Brezzo said.
“The growing of tobacco in Australia often involves the illegal sourcing of water, which undermines legitimate farmers and Government sustainability measures.”
The illicit tobacco market in Australia is worth about $822 million a year in evaded revenue.
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 imprisonment.