NSW Police are investigating the commercial theft of cigarettes worth $1.7 million from Sydney’s Western Suburbs after a series of break and enters spanning more than a year.
The Property Crime Squad established Strike Force Oribi earlier this year to investigate a number of break and enters at a warehouse at Woodpark Road, Smithfield, in Sydney’s west, between March 2014 and May 2015.
During the 14-month period, there were six break and enters or attempted break and enters upon the premises, with offenders stealing commercial quantities of cigarettes on four of those occasions. The total value of the cigarettes stolen is estimated to be about $1.7 million.
Jeff Rogut, CEO of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores, spoke with C&I and offered the following advice for convenience retailers wary of goods provided by suppliers: “AACS does not condone retailers buying or selling stolen, counterfeit, illicit or illegal tobacco products. If a deal is ‘too good to be true’ it probably is and the fines for selling non-compliant products are severe, as well as the loss of reputation. If a franchisee is caught by the authorities dealing in illicit tobacco or stolen goods, they could potentially face the loss of their business.”
Simon Dowding, spokesman for Philip Morris Limited, reiterated to C&I the need to take a strong stance against redistributing stolen or counterfeit items, “Philip Morris has a zero tolerance policy for those involved in the illicit tobacco trade. Smuggling and selling illegal tobacco is a serious crime and there are serious penalties for people prosecuted and convicted of dealing in black market tobacco. We are continuing to invest more resources in the identification and investigation of those involved in the illicit tobacco trade.”
Mr Dowding says the impact of recently imposed regulations and increased taxes upon the tobacco industry have been instrumental in the increase of tobacco related crimes. “The tobacco black market is booming in Australia and has reached record levels as government taxes push the price of legal tobacco products higher.
“Cigarettes in Australia are now among the most expensive in the Asia Pacific region as a result of the government’s 25% tobacco excise increase in 2010 and two 12.5% increases in 2013 and 2014,” Mr Dowding said. “The combination of excessive tobacco taxes and plain packaging makes Australia a lucrative target for organised crime gangs involved in smuggling and selling cheap, illegal tobacco.”
The recent raid of six tobacconists in Liverpool that resulted in the seizure of $60,000 worth of illegal tobacco products is evidence of the low threshold for illegal activity: “Philip Morris Limited assisted the NSW Police and Australian Border Force with their investigations by providing technical support at their request,” said Mr Dowding.
Police have released footage of the vehicles involved in the most recent Smithfield warehouse theft in the hope of obtaining further information from the public. Police are now trying to locate a maroon-coloured Ford Falcon (pictured above) believed to be linked to at least one of the incidents.
Convenience retailers are advised to contact their local police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 if they suspect that they have been approached with the stolen goods.