The Australian Border Force (ABF) has detected and seized more than 2.6 million illicit cigarettes and 2.3 tonnes of rough cut tobacco at the border throughout April.
The Hon Jason Wood MP, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, said one shipment of 650,000 cigarettes which arrived into Sydney was under a cover load of tissues and toilet paper, essential items during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The opportunistic players who tried to take advantage of the global COVID-19 pandemic by smuggling illicit cigarettes under the cover of essential items didn’t succeed. ABF officers are well trained to find illicit items in shipments,” Assistant Minister Wood said.
“Australians who buy illicit tobacco should be aware the proceeds of these sales are supporting a market dominated by criminal syndicates that use the profits from illicit tobacco to fund other illegal activities.”
Other detections included two separate sea cargo shipments with 690,000 cigarettes in one and 1,344,000 cigarettes in the other. The rough cut tobacco arrived in two separate shipments of 1269kg and 1078kg. The detections arrived via sea cargo shipments to various ports across Australia and were x-rayed revealing inconsistencies with the import declarations. Some shipments were concealed within goods while others were only mis-declared.
Assistant Minister Wood said these detections were another example of the ABF’s commitment to disrupting the supply of illicit tobacco.
“We know that established organised crime groups are diversifying their commodities to include illicit tobacco as it is perceived as a low risk/high reward activity. New organised crime groups are emerging that purely focus on illicit tobacco importation and distribution.”
The ABF leads the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF), a multi-agency taskforce which was established in response to recommendations made by the Black Economy Taskforce to develop an innovative whole-of-government strategy to combat tobacco smuggling. It embodies a coordinated whole-of-government approach that draws together the expertise, capabilities and powers of partners to safeguard the Australian Community from the significant threat posed by illicit tobacco and the criminals who profit from it.
“I would like to commend the ITTF on their most recent operational success last week in Sydney, which led to the arrest of one individual and nearly 10 million illicit cigarettes seized along with other items.”
The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.
People with information about the illicit importation of tobacco should contact Border Watch at www.Australia.gov.au/borderwatch. By reporting suspicious activities, you help protect Australia's border. Information can be provided anonymously.