Queensland Police and the Australian Tax Office have uncovered 10 acres of illegal tobacco – an estimated 25 tonnes – with a value of almost $40 million.
The discovery was made in Linthorpe, about 135 kilometres west of Brisbane and located within the Toowoomba region, when police and ATO officers searched a property this week.
According to the ATO, it is illegal to grow tobacco in Australia without a licence, and there have been no licensed tobacco growers or manufacturers in Australia since 2006.
Growing tobacco carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, and the ATO estimates illicit tobacco costs the community $822 million annually in lost revenue.
According to the ATO, organised criminals continue to grow tobacco. Their methods include targeting unsuspecting landowners and trying to lease land on which to grow it.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said his organisation was responsible for detecting, investigating and prosecuting those who grow or manufacture illegal tobacco.
“Tobacco-growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised criminal syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities,” Mr Read said.
“Organised criminals who deal in illicit tobacco rob the Australian community by using their profits to fund their criminal behaviour well beyond the sale of illegal tobacco.
“Signs to look out for include intense labour production between November and May, suspicious inquiries about land for lease, and unexplained use of water resources.
“Mature tobacco plants can be up to 2.5 metres tall, have large green leaves and long trumpet-shaped, white-pinkish flowers, and may resemble kale, cabbage or corn.”