A joint operation between the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police Force, Australian Border Force and the Australian Crime Commission has seized more than nine million illicit cigarettes and tobacco at Port Botany in Sydney late last month.
Originating in the United Arab Emirates, the tobacco confiscated by the Polaris Joint Waterfront Taskforce had a black market value of $5.4 million. It is also alleged that the illegal importation would have avoided tobacco excise and custom duties of $4.7 million.
Thirteen people have been charged, with a number of the accused attached to customs brokerage companies and freight forwarding firms that had received payments in excess of $10,000 to create false declarations and shipping documents to enable the importation of illicit cigarettes and tobacco.
Polaris Joint Waterfront Task Force commander Detective Superintendent Nick Bingham said the arrests were part of a long-term investigation into Sydney’s waterfront and logistics chain.
“This operation has shut down a significant syndicate allegedly involved in facilitating the importation of illicit goods into the country and distributing those goods into the community, as well as trafficking in commercial amounts of prohibited drugs,” Det Supt Bingham said.
“The importance of a multi-agency taskforce that has the capacity to work with authorities in the United Arab Emirates and the shipping industry cannot be understated.
“This will send a message to those in the maritime sector and supply chain that the Polaris Joint Waterfront Taskforce has the capacity to undertake protracted investigations to combat these syndicates. Further arrests will take place in the near future.”
Other items seized during the investigation include more than $400,000 cash and about 270g of cocaine with a street value of about $184,000. Imperial Tobacco Head of Corporate and Legal Affairs Andrew Gregson has congratulated the taskforce, but says the seizure is further evidence that illicit tobacco is a major and growing problem in Australia.
“This large seizure confirms that illicit tobacco in Australia is a major problem,” he said. “The illegal tobacco supply chain involves organised crime, isn’t concerned with what they’re selling and doesn’t have any qualms about selling to children.
“We’re prepared to work with all interested parties with an interest in successfully combating these criminal activities undermining our society – state and federal governments, regulators, law-enforcement authorities and tobacco-control lobbyists. Ignoring the problem will only see the use of illicit tobacco continue to grow.
“For too long now, anti-tobacco zealots have tried to bury Australia’s head in the sand by refusing to acknowledge just how rampant and serious this issue is.”
Philip Morris Limited spokesman Simon Dowding said the tobacco black market had reached record levels as government taxes pushed the price of legal tobacco products higher.
“These successive tobacco tax hikes make Australia a lucrative target for organised crime gangs involved in the smuggling, growing and selling of cheap, illegal tobacco,” he said. “This illicit trade in tobacco not only enriches organised criminal groups, but also hurts law-abiding retailers and diminishes government revenues.
“Smuggling and selling illegal tobacco is a serious crime and Philip Morris will continue to work with law-enforcement authorities to share information and assist their efforts to stamp out this criminal activity. But as the tobacco black market continues to grow in Australia, the Government needs to reassess the tax and regulatory measures which have created the environment for this insidious trade.”