Thirteen charged, illegal tobacco importation syndicate shut down – Polaris Joint Waterfront Taskforce

Joint media release with NSW Police, AFP and ACC

Thirteen people have been charged following Polaris Joint Waterfront Taskforce investigations into the alleged importation of large amounts of illicit cigarettes and tobacco using corrupt industry officials on the Sydney waterfront and in the maritime supply chain.

A quantity of cocaine has also been seized during the course of the investigation, while assets worth millions of dollars have been frozen.

Operation Minium was commenced in August 2014 by the Taskforce which comprises the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police Force, Australian Border Force, and the Australian Crime Commission.

It will be alleged in court that a number of employees attached to customs brokerage companies and freight forwarding firms had received payments, each in the tens of thousands of dollars, to create false declarations and shipping documents to enable the importation of illicit cigarettes and tobacco.

That includes facilitating the passage of nine million cigarettes from the United Arab Emirates which arrived at Port Botany this month and were seized by Polaris officers.

The cigarettes have a black market value of approximately $5.4 million and it will be alleged the illegal importation would have avoided tobacco excise and Customs duties of about $4.77 million.

Polaris officers have worked closely with Dubai Customs officials from the United Arab Emirates in relation to this phase of the investigation.

Police will allege in court that the syndicate had avoided more than $9.1 million in Customs duties in total in respect of 10 million cigarettes and 5.6 tonnes of tobacco during the course of the investigation. Detectives have also seized in excess of $700,000 during that time.

Police will also allege that shipments of illegal cigarettes and tobacco had been collected by a local syndicate for distribution throughout Sydney.

Further, a number of those in the syndicate were also involved in the supply of commercial quantities of cocaine, as well as offering to supply commercial quantities of cocaine. Approximately 270 grams of cocaine was seized during the investigation with a street value of around $184,000.

About 10am on Tuesday 29 September 2015, officers attached to Polaris, the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police Force and Australian Border Force executed search warrants on 17 properties in Sydney’s south and south-west. Twelve men and one woman were arrested.

Items seized during the search warrants include more than $400,000 cash, further cigarettes and documents.

The Australian Federal Police-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce brought urgent proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court to restrain assets held by individuals involved in the alleged syndicate. The Australian Federal Police has restrained several personal and business bank accounts as well as houses owned by individuals charged with involvement in the syndicate.

Polaris Waterfront Task Force Commander, Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham, said the arrests were part of a long-term investigation into Sydney's waterfront and logistics chain.

“This operation has shut down a significant syndicate allegedly involved in facilitating the importation of illicit goods into the country and distributing those goods into the community, as well as trafficking in commercial amounts of prohibited drugs,” Det Supt Bingham said.

“The importance of a multi-agency taskforce that has the capacity to work with authorities in the United Arab Emirates and the shipping industry cannot be understated.

“This will send a message to those in the maritime sector and supply chain that the Polaris Joint Waterfront Taskforce has the capacity to undertake protracted investigations to combat these syndicates. Further arrests will take place in the near future.”

The arrests and charges include:

A 25-year-old man was charged with smuggling etc. tobacco products; intentionally dealing in proceeds of crime etc. money or property worth $100,000 or more; supply prohibited drug (cocaine) not less than the commercial amount; and supply (offer) prohibited drug (cocaine) not less than the commercial amount.

A 24-year-old man who is a member of the Lone Wolf outlaw motorcycle gang was charged with supply prohibited drug (cocaine) not less than the commercial amount; and perjury.

A 37-year-old man who is a Customs broker was charged with smuggling etc. tobacco products; obtaining a financial advantage by deception; conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth; multiple counts of forgery in respect of shipping documents; and supply (offer) prohibited drug (cocaine).

A 40-year-old man was charged with smuggling etc. tobacco products; obtaining a financial advantage by deception; possession of forged document; and possession of identification information.

A 32-year-old businessman was charged with multiple counts of smuggling etc. tobacco products; conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth; dealing in proceeds of crime etc. money or property worth $1,000,000 or more.

A 65-year-old businessman was charged with multiple counts of smuggling etc. tobacco products; multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth; dealing in proceeds of crime etc. money or property worth $1,000,000 or more.

A 22-year-old man was charged with supply (offer) prohibited drug (cocaine) not less than the large commercial amount; multiple counts of smuggling etc. tobacco products; and conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth.

A 37-year-old man who is an imports manager was charged with forgery in respect of shipping documents.

A 21-year-old man was charged with smuggling etc. tobacco products; and conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth.

A 25-year-old woman who is a freight company operations manager was charged with multiple counts of smuggling etc. tobacco products; and conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth.

A 33-year-old man who is a Customs underbond warehouse manager was charged with forgery in respect of shipping documents; smuggling etc. tobacco products; dealing in proceeds of crime etc. money or property worth $10,000 or more; and conspiracy to defraud causing a loss to the Commonwealth.

A 45-year-old businessman was charged with smuggling etc. tobacco products; and intentionally dealing in proceeds of crime etc. money or property worth $100,000 or more.

A 56-year-old businessman was charged with two counts of smuggling etc. tobacco products; intentionally dealing in proceeds of crime etc. money or property worth $100,000 or more; and obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

Penalties include up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the smuggling and fraud offences, through to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the more serious drug offences.

Media contacts:

Australian Federal Police:                   (02) 6131 6333

NSW Police Force:                             (02) 8835 8339

Australian Border Force:                     (02) 6264 2244

Australian Crime Commission:           (02) 6243 6843           

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