Tobacco Strike Team inflicts major blow to illicit cigarette trade

An organised crime syndicate allegedly responsible for the illegal importation of more than 30 million cigarettes during 2015 was dismantled by Tobacco Strike Team. The Australian Border Force (ABF) has a dedicated task force named Tobacco Strike Team to exclusively deal with illegal import of tobacco to Australia.

In this connection two men were arrested in Sydney. They were  charged with smuggling offences under the Customs Act 1901. Law enforcement agencies have not given out name of any Sydney custom broker in this case.

Controlling tobacco smuggling using modern means of communication and equipment is one of the ABF’s key operational priorities, said ABF Acting Assistant Commissioner, Investigations, Anthony Seebach.

The government through Tobacco Strike Team is determined to reduce the availability of illicit tobacco in Australia. This in turn will reduce the harm posed to the community through the availability of cheap tobacco.

On the basis of 24 warrants executed in Sydney and Melbourne, ABF gathered substantial evidence on the alleged smuggling of ‘Spoonbill’ branded cigarettes into Australia. The tobacco smuggling syndicate has been grossly under-declaring the volume of cigarettes imported and cigarettes were imported in plain packaging.

For the first two months of 2015, ABF allege, the cartel has evaded tax of about $15 million. For this scale of evasion the maximum penalty can be 10 years’ imprisonment and/or up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

According to Assistant Commissioner Seebach, Australian tax rates on cigarettes are amongst the highest in the world. This makes smuggling of tobacco more profitable in Australia than in any other part of the world. This has attracted transnational crime groups to come to Australian illicit tobacco market.

These criminal organisations are well networked, well-funded and highly organised. Though Tobacco Strike Team is doing a good job in collaboration with other law enforcement partners they have a very tough task to perform.