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ATO and Lunar seize over $6m of illicit tobacco in West Victoria

Regulation

The ATO and detectives from Taskforce Lunar have seized 3.3 tonnes of illicit tobacco, over $170,000 cash, and 11 firearms during a joint investigation in Victoria. 

By Imogen Wilson 13 minute read

The seizure was part of an ongoing operation by Lunar that has executed five Commonwealth search warrants at large rural properties in the state’s west.

ATO Assistant Commissioner Jade Hawkins said the operations are focused on pinpointing and eradicating criminal activity surrounding the production and distribution of illicit tobacco.

“We are committed to targeting growers and sellers of illicit tobacco and ensuring they face the consequences of their actions,” she said.

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Three search warrants were conducted in Landsborough and two in Barkly to target the illegal substance. 

No illicit tobacco was found in Landsborough, though the properties showed recent signs of tobacco harvesting. 

However, 20,000 illicit cigarettes and a small amount of cash were uncovered in Barkly at a Johnsons Gully Road address. A 40-year-old man was interviewed at the scene, with further information yet to be confirmed. 

Hawkins emphasised the importance of the raids and ensuring that growers and sellers of illicit tobacco face the consequences of their actions. 

“The outcomes of these raids are another positive step forward in the ongoing work to detect, disrupt and dismantle organised crime syndicates who use profits from illicit tobacco to fund other more serious illegal activities,” she said. 

“The illicit tobacco trade not only takes away vital funding from essential community services, but it also disadvantages honest small businesses who do the right thing.”

Aided by the VIPER Taskforce, Brimbank Crime Reduction Team, and Brimbank Crime Investigation Unit, five more Commonwealth search warrants were conducted and successful in the north-west metropolitan suburbs of Melton South, Sydenham, and Delahey.

Detective acting superintendent Mark Hatt said the Victoria Police are focused on targeting anyone involved with the criminal activity of illicit tobacco and the prevention of more organised crime groups from becoming involved. 

“We have said previously that Victoria police is focused on targeting syndicate leaders, directors, facilitators and organisers responsible for this criminal offending,” Hatt said. 

“That remains a key priority for us, and we are doing absolutely everything we can to target them, to bring this criminality to an end and to make involvement in illicit tobacco as unattractive a proposition as possible for organised crime groups.”

The search in Melton South at a Nelson Court address found a total of 1,0000 kilograms of illegal tobacco, along with 1.5 kilograms of cannabis, $60,000 in cash, and 10 shotgun rounds. 

The occupant of the residency, a 47-year-old man was charged with multiple offences and will appear before the Sunshine Magistrates’ Court on 2 October.

Charges facing the man include possessing illicit tobacco to defraud the revenue, possessing a trafficable quantity drug of dependence, and possessing proceeds of crime and firearms.

In Sydenham, two successful searches were conducted that have led to both residing occupants of the addresses to be charged accordingly.

A 30-year-old man living at a Rose Court address in Sydenham is expected to be charged on summons after police uncovered 200 kilograms of tobacco, five firearms that had not been stored correctly, evidence relating to the manufacture of illicit tobacco and keys to a property believed to be an illegal tobacco farm. 

At the second Sydenham property on Spellman Avenue, police seized 900 kilograms of illicit tobacco along with a small amount of cash.

The 39-year-old man living at the Spellman property will be charged with the possession of the tobacco to defraud the revenue and possessing proceeds of crime.

Lunar conducted another two Commonwealth search warrants in Delahey where a total of 1,200 kilograms of illegal tobacco was exposed. 

At Woodsworth Place, a 35-year-old man was found to be in possession of 600 kilograms of tobacco, $90,000 cash, and six firearms. This was followed by a further 600 kilograms of illicit tobacco found at a Lalwinya Street address. 

Hatt said the Victorian Police were doing everything they could to bring illicit tobacco to an end. 

“However, we also need the community’s help. Purchasing illicit tobacco is not a victimless crime – in doing so, you are unwittingly funding organised crime,” Hatt said.

Hatt believes individuals interacting with the illicit substance will lead to other serious crimes such as arson attacks and illegal shootings.

“If you are aware of illicit activity linked to a tobacco store, please come forward with that information so police can act,” he said. 

Imogen Wilson

AUTHOR

Imogen Wilson is a graduate journalist at Accountants Daily and Accounting Times, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting sector.

Previously, Imogen has worked in broadcast journalism at NOVA 93.7 Perth and Channel 7 Perth. She has multi-platform experience in writing, radio and TV presenting, as well as podcast production.

Imogen is from Western Australia and has a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism from Curtin University, Perth.

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