Border control authorities have been targeting the illicit tobacco trade across Australia.
Border control authorities have been targeting the illicit tobacco trade across Australia.

Border Force cracks down on illicit trade

AUTHORITIES seized almost 60 million cigarettes last month in a major operation targeting illicit tobacco.

The cigarettes represented more than $40 million in evaded taxes.

The bust came after information was passed on detailing a large scale illicit tobacco importation and money laundering operation with links to South East Asia.

In March two men on the Gold Coast were arrested, as part of the investigation by the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce.

The investigation began in June 2017.

The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce combines the resources of the ABF, Department of Home Affairs, ACIC, the Australian Taxation Office, AUSTRAC and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is 10 years imprisonment, and penalties of up to five times the amount of duty evaded can also be imposed by the courts.

In a separate investigation, two Chinese students were this month charged after allegedly attempting to import 778kg of loose leaf tobacco from China.

The arrests came after information was supplied to the Australian Border Force on July 17.

Border Force officers in Adelaide intercepted the tobacco.

Following further investigations, in South Australia and New South Wales, ABF officers executed a warrant at an address in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood on 30 July 2018.

Further warrants were executed at another residential address in Marsfield on July 31.

The total amount of tax evaded was estimated to be more than $780,000.

The two men's matters are before the courts.

The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce was announced on July 1 and its first major bust was the discovery of more than 17 acres of illegal tobacco crops near Katherine, along with six tonnes of tobacco leaf with an estimated value of $13.3 million.

It was the first ever tobacco seizure in the Northern Territory.

The bust was made public on July 26.

Between then and July 2016, the Australian Taxation Office undertook 33 seizures totalling 221 tonnes of illicit tobacco with an estimated $192 million of tax duty forgone.

In the last financial year the Australian Border Force made more than 110,000 detections of illicit tobacco at the border including almost 240 million cigarettes and 217 million tonnes of tobacco, worth more than $356 million in evaded duty.