A dedicated Australian Border Force (ABF) strike team will target and disrupt serious organised crime syndicates smuggling illicit tobacco into Australia.
The Minister Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton announced the new team today after the ABF made its largest ever seizure of illicit tobacco in a single operation.
Seventy one tonnes of loose leaf tobacco was intercepted in three shipments destined for sale in Australia under Operation Wardite.
Illegal tobacco is sold at discounted prices to legal products. On the blackmarket this seizure would reap around $40 million - at normal retail prices it is worth almost $90 million.
It could produce around 88 million cigarette sticks or 3.5 million regular packets (25). If sold over a year it would equal 67,000 packets a week.
“This tobacco would have cost Australia over $27 million in legitimate tax revenue if it had been successfully smuggled into the country and sold here,” Mr Dutton said.
Forty seven tonnes of the tobacco was shipped into Sydney in two containers from Indonesia and intercepted in June.
The third shipment of 24 tonnes was seized by Indonesian authorities before it could be moved from Indonesia.
Mr Dutton said shipments of this size require a high degree of organisation.
“There are clear links to organised crime and we know that groups smuggling illicit tobacco into Australia are also involved in other illegal activities such as narcotics.
“The ABF is determined to disrupt their activities and the new ABF strike team will focus on the organised crime syndicates behind shipments like this and collect intelligence on their operations,” Mr Dutton said.
That information will be shared with other agencies and existing organised crime task forces.
Mr Dutton said the successful interceptions were the result of co-operative efforts of the ABF and Indonesian Customs.
“Their long, constructive links over many years are crucial in disrupting the operations of transnational criminal organisations dealing in illicit drugs and tobacco.
“I welcome the efforts of our Indonesian friends in achieving this outcome.”
The Sydney seizures follow the recent discovery of ten tonnes of tobacco products comprising 5.9 million cigarettes in Melbourne and the dismantling of two major organised crime groups smuggling tobacco - by Task Force Polaris in NSW and another ABF operation in Victoria over the past month.