Jail for sofa cigarette smuggler

A 55-year-old Perth man has been sentenced to eight months jail for smuggling almost 100,000 cigarettes into Fremantle concealed inside a shipment of sofas.

Australian Border Force (ABF) officers intercepted the consignment in a shipping container that arrived from China on 3 January 2018.

Inside were 149 cardboard boxes that contained modular sofas. ABF officers identified that ten of the boxes at the rear of the container were marked slightly differently. There was also scented air fresheners located throughout the container.

One of the ten boxes was unpacked revealing a sofa consisting of two cushions, an armrest and a base seat. An x-ray of the base seat revealed anomalies, and a subsequent examination showed it was concealing dozens of cartons of cigarettes.

A total of 449 cigarette cartons, or 99,800 sticks, were seized.

The duty and GST payable on that amount of cigarettes at the time was $77,189.11.

ABF Investigators executed search warrants on the importer’s Queens Park home and Victoria Park business on 15 January 2018, seizing a mobile phone and a number of documents relating to the purchase of cigarettes in China and the sale of cigarettes from his Victoria Park cafe. The man did not have a license to sell tobacco products.

He was subsequently charged with one count of Importing tobacco products with intent to defraud the revenue under s233BABAD(1) of the Customs Act 1901.

The maximum penalty for that offence is 10 years imprisonment, a fine not exceeding five times the amount of duty payable on the goods, or both.

The man was found guilty after a three-day trial in the Perth Magistrates Court in October 2020, and on Friday (19 February 2021) he was sentenced to eight months in jail, to serve four months.

ABF Regional Commander Operations West, James Copeman, said the ABF was committed to targeting cigarette and tobacco smugglers at all levels.

“Whether it’s large scale criminal syndicates, individual profiteers such as this man, or smokers stockpiling personal supplies, our officers have the training and the technology to detect their illicit imports,” Commander Copeman said.

“Black market tobacco is a serious issue for Australia, and has far broader consequences than people buying cheap smokes under the counter.”

The Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, Jason Wood, said all people involved in black market tobacco – whether it is growing, importing, supplying or buying – are putting money into the hands of organised crime.

“On top of that, they are depriving the Australian community of vital funding for services, and penalising retailers who abide by the law.

“The Australian Government is fully committed to disrupting and dismantling the tobacco black market.”