Over $20 million of illicit cigarette sticks up in smoke

Investigations are underway following the detection and destruction of 18 million illicit cigarette sticks by the Australian Border Force (ABF).

Last month, information received by the ABF international network enabled the NSW Cargo Examination Facility to successfully intercept two sea cargo consignments declared as plywood. These consignments were referred to the ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) for investigation.

The two consignments were found to contain a combined total of approximately 18 million illicit cigarette sticks with an excise value of over $20 million (excluding GST).

The penalties for smuggling illicit tobacco are severe and can include up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

Commander Special Investigations Greg Linsdell said this was an excellent outcome for not only the ABF, but the Australian community more broadly.

“There is common misconception that engaging in the illicit tobacco trade is a victimless crime, but it is far from it,” Commander Linsdell said.

“Buying illicit tobacco is a crime. It funds organised criminal syndicates and supports them to undertake other serious criminal activities that harm Australian society.”

“In addition to this, it takes away potential income from genuine retailers, sometimes small family-run businesses, who abide by the law and are supporters of their local community.”

Commander International Operations and Coordination Lauren Monks said this outcome demonstrates the effectiveness of collaboration with international border agencies.

“Tobacco is one of the most highly taxed commodities in Australia and across the world. Because of this, illicit tobacco is an attractive market for organised criminal syndicates across the globe due to the lucrative profits that can be made in evaded tax,” Commander Monks said.

“We remain committed to maintaining close working relationships with our international border security partners to combat the illicit tobacco trade before it hits our shores.”

The ABF leads the multi-agency ITTF which is focussed on proactively targeting, disrupting and dismantling serious actors and organised crime syndicates that deal in illicit tobacco.

It combines the operational, investigative, and intelligence capabilities of the ABF, Australian Taxation Office, Department of Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.