Major strike delivered to illegal cigarette smuggling

The Australian Border Force (ABF) dedicated Tobacco Strike Team has delivered a major blow to the black market importation and trade of illicit cigarettes in Australia, with its latest investigation disrupting an organised crime syndicate allegedly responsible for the illegal importation of more than 30 million cigarettes during 2015.

On Wednesday, two men were arrested in Sydney and charged with smuggling offences under the Customs Act 1901. The two men, who are brothers aged 23 and 33, were granted bail and will reappear at Melbourne Magistrates Court on 22 February. 

ABF Acting Assistant Commissioner, Investigations, Anthony Seebach emphasised that targeting tobacco smuggling is one of the ABF’s key operational priorities.

“In establishing the Tobacco Strike Team, we have flagged our intent to take on tobacco smugglers,” Assistant Commissioner Seebach said.

“We are determined to reduce the availability of illicit tobacco in Australia and, by doing so, we will reduce the harm posed to the community through the availability of cheap tobacco.”

ABF officers have executed 24 warrants in Sydney and Melbourne since December last year and gathered substantial evidence in relation to the alleged smuggling of ‘Spoonbill’ branded cigarettes into Australia. The cigarettes were imported in plain packaging.

The Strike Team, established in October 2015, will rely on evidence, gathered from domestic and overseas sources, to allege that the syndicate has been grossly under-declaring the volume of cigarettes imported.

The ABF will allege that, since January 2015, about 200 shipments of tobacco have contained more tobacco than that which has been declared for the purpose of duty calculations. The alleged evasion is about $15 million. The maximum penalty for this offence is up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or penalties up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

“Tobacco smuggling is a serious crime. The Australian tax rates on cigarettes are amongst the highest in the world, for good reason, and that means that smuggling of tobacco is more profitable here than it might be overseas,” Assistant Commissioner Seebach said.

“As a result, we have seen that transnational crime groups will look for opportunities to enter into the illicit tobacco market here, in Australia. Those criminal organisations are well networked, well-funded and highly organised.

“The Tobacco Strike Team will continue to work in collaboration with law enforcement partners and industry to disrupt the supply of illicit tobacco and dismantle the criminal syndicates behind it.

“People who have bought, sold or distributed ‘Spoonbill’ cigarettes are encouraged to contact the ABF to add to the body of evidence that has been compiled by the Strike Team.”

Members of the public are strongly encouraged to contact the Department with information about the sale of illicit cigarette or tobacco products. You can report any suspicious activity by contacting the Border Watch hotline on 1800 009 623.

Media contact: Immigration and Border Protection (02) 6264 2244

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