Taskforce Lunar has been established to target organised crime groups and their involvement in the illicit tobacco trade in Victoria.
The taskforce will look at a broad range of criminality tied to an ongoing dispute between organised crime groups, including a recent spate of arson attacks targeting tobacco stores across the state, with police believing up to 29 fires are linked.
Detective Superintendent Jason Kelly, Crime Command, said the creation of Taskforce Lunar is in recognition of the threat that these organised crime syndicates and the offending linked to their dispute currently present to the broader community.
“We know who the main players in these syndicates are, and police are doing everything we can to directly target those people in any way possible.
“This is everything from identifying those responsible for every single component of the offending we are seeing, through to putting them before the court and stripping them of their ill-gotten assets.
“The reality is, any tobacco shop across Victoria is currently at some risk of being targeted. We’ve also seen some stores repeatedly targeted.”
Investigators from Taskforce Lunar believe the current situation is a result of criminal syndicates in conflict due to competition for profit from the illicit tobacco market.
The significant profit opportunity and perceived lower penalties for offending make the illicit tobacco market increasingly attractive to organised crime syndicates, which see the physical placement of illicit tobacco in stores as well as demands for stores to sell the syndicate’s illicit product and to pay a ‘tax’ per week to operate.
“Where we have information about those threats, we will step in and act, however we need those in the industry along with members of the public, to be our eyes and ears.
“It’s people’s lives that are at risk – not just their livelihood. This is inherently dangerous behaviour,” said Kelly.
Police believe there are between 800-1000 tobacco stores currently operating in Victoria, and over the past two months, they have, along with the Australian Border Force (ABF), conducted over 100 store visits in an attempt to obtain further information about the current dispute and disrupt any future attacks.
“If you know something about these arson attacks and who is involved, or if you witness any suspicious activity around tobacco stores then we urge you to come forward and tell police.”