Retailers say huge illicit tobacco bust highlights need for government focus

A police operation in suburban Melbourne has recovered over $3.4 million in cash and around $2.45 million worth of illicit tobacco.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), welcomed the raids and said it highlights the scale of the challenge that faces authorities in cracking down on the black market for cigarettes.

“We note the reports of the alleged involvement of organised crime. The scale of the illicit tobacco market is so vast in Australia, reaching across all states and territories, that the complexity of the problem seems to grow by the week.

“Retailers have been crying out for tougher penalties and better regulation to disrupt the illicit tobacco trade for years now. The Victorian Government was planning to complete a review last month, and we have yet to see a result there. This is a timely reminder of the urgency at play.”

The raids, conducted by Victoria Police’s Trident Taskforce, saw search warrants issued at four homes and three businesses in suburban Melbourne on Wednesday morning, and was assisted by the Australian Border Force, the AFP’s Operation Centinel, and the Department of Home Affairs.

“It is noteworthy that the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s Acting Executive Director of Intelligence Operations said following the raids that serious and organised crime groups are more attracted to the Australian illicit tobacco market than ever before.”

Foukkare said that we cannot be complacent, and while this is a major seizure, it is just the latest in what has become a regular stream of reports of illicit tobaccos operations around the country.

“Getting on top of this is a significant law enforcement challenge and needs focus and resources from state and federal governments to ensure we have the right regulatory framework, sufficient penalties to deter criminals, and the resources to continue to disrupt these kinds of operations.

“Criminals can use the profits from illicit tobacco to fund other activities. The lost tax also deprives governments of revenue for essential services in the community.”

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