Industry applauds illicit smoke ring bust

tobacco5An illicit tobacco smuggling operation based in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs has been smashed following an Australian Border Force (ABF) investigation.

More than one million illicit cigarettes in a consignment from Malaysia were detected at the Melbourne Container Examination Facility with the ABF linking another five consignments to the same syndicate.

A 31-year-old Australian man and a Chinese national, 29, have been charged with illicit tobacco offences following a raid at a Burwood East on June 21.

The ABF also allegedly uncovered another 137,000 cigarettes and a small quantity of the drug ice at the property. Almost three million cigarettes have been seized, worth approximately $2.25 million in evaded revenue, the ABF said. ABF commander investigations Graeme Grosse said the Tobacco Strike Team would continue to target “high-value syndicates in the illicit market” in Australia or off-shore.

“People may think buying a cheap packet of cigarettes under the counter is harmless enough, but the people involved in this industry are serious criminals, in this case with potential links to illicit drugs and identity fraud,” he said on Sunday.

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores CEO Jeff Rogut said the sheer number of people involved in this latest bust demonstrates how widespread illicit tobacco is in Australia.

“The establishment of a taskforce to target illicit tobacco, coupled with tougher penalties for those criminals involved in smuggling and trafficking illegal products, are a necessary response to this spiralling crime,” Rogut said. “The ABF has done a terrific job in bringing the criminals involved in this ring to justice, though there are many more out there. The time to ramp up efforts to crack down on illicit tobacco criminals is now.”

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