More than $84 million worth of tobacco has been seized in a two-day blitz that’s disrupted three illicit tobacco growing operations in regional Victoria and NSW.
Last Wednesday, the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, a multi-agency task force led by the Australian Border Force, uncovered 26 hectares of tobacco crops in Kyalite, NSW.
The ITTF seized and destroyed more than 183 tonnes of illicit tobacco, which had a potential excise value of $36 million.
The NSW Natural Resources Access Regulator is also investigating possible water theft offences at the property.
On the same day, ATO officers and Victoria Police, found 12 hectares of illicit tobacco crops in Beverford, Victoria, as part of an ITTF operation, seizing and destroying 183 tonnes of illicit tobacco crops and 140kg of processed tobacco bales, which had a potential excise value of more than $36.3 million.
On Thursday, the ATO and Victoria Police raided a property in Vinifera, Victoria, and found five hectares of illicit tobacco crops with a potential excise value of $12 million. ATO officers seized and destroyed over 60.7 tonnes of illicit tobacco.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said the joint operation was one of the biggest busts of illicit tobacco growing operations in Australia.
“Tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“They are run by organised crime syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities to fund their extravagant lifestyles and other criminal activity.
“It significantly deprives the community of taxes that are required to fund essential community services such as roads, schools and hospitals.”
The illicit tobacco market in Australia is worth about $822 million a year in evaded revenue.
Growing tobacco has been illegal in Australia for more than a decade and carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment.