The Australian Border Force have disrupted a highly-organised tobacco smuggling syndicate, stopping the flow of nearly three million illicit cigarettes.
Six people have now been charged by the Australian Border Force over their alleged involvement in a highly-organised tobacco smuggling syndicate that was operating through Melbourne International Airport.
Three Chinese nationals were arrested in January over their alleged involvement, and another two from China were identified as couriers and charged with importing tobacco products with the intention to evade revenue on March 2.
Officers also arrested and charged a 31-year-old Chinese female on June 7, and charged her with possess and convey tobacco products.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) also alleges that between June 2017 and May 2018, a further 94 individuals were detected arriving at Melbourne Airport with illicit tobacco and have since been deported from Australia.
ABF Commander of Investigations Graeme Grosse said the long-running investigation has had a significant effect on the illicit tobacco market in Victoria.
“We are definitely seeing a large amount of illicit tobacco being seized in Victoria and we believe we’ve dismantled a criminal network that was a major player in the market and that was making significant profits from this activity,” Commander Grosse said.
“We expect to be able to target more of these operations with the stand-up on 1 July of the ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, which will combine our resources with that of the Department of Home Affairs, ACIC, AUSTRAC, CDPP the ATO.”
ABF investigators gathered intelligence by targeting passengers on a number of flights from South-East Asia arriving in Melbourne.
Investigations revealed that more than 2.7 million illicit cigarettes were detected during the course of the investigation, worth approximately $1,940,00 in evaded duty.
Four of the Chinese nationals who were arrested appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates Court on May 25 where they all plead guilty.
They had spent between 84 and 125 days in custody and were sentenced to time already served. They have since been deported from Australia.
The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years imprisonment. Penalties of up to five times the amount of duty evaded can also be imposed by the courts.