The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) seized and destroyed over 131 tonnes of illicit tobacco in the 2019-20 financial year, representing estimated excise forgone of $171 million. This includes activity undertaken by the ATO as part of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF).
With the assistance of New South Wales Police, Victoria Police, Queensland Police and Australian Border Force, ATO officers executed 19 search warrants and uncovered over 184 acres of illicit tobacco growing in hot spots across regional New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
The largest single seizure was in Lake Bolac in Victoria, with the ATO, Victoria Police and Australian Border Force officers locating 31.4 acres of tobacco, seizing and destroying 28 tonnes worth approximately $36.6 million in lost excise.
A total of 65 tonnes worth approximately $85 million was seized and destroyed in New South Wales, 57.8 tonnes worth $75.5 million in Victoria and 8 tonnes worth $10 million in Queensland.
Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said these outcomes demonstrate the ATO’s commitment to disrupting organised crime syndicates that produce and supply illegal tobacco for sale on the black market in Australia.
“The trade in illicit tobacco products in Australia has widespread negative consequences across the community,” Mr Read said.
“Tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised crime syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities to fund their extravagant lifestyles and other criminal activity.”
“We’re finding crops in regional and remote areas of the country, being grown on land being leased from unsuspecting owners under the guise of growing vegetables,” he said.
“A number of these operations were as a result of tip-offs from concerned members of the community, and I urge people to keep reporting any activity they suspect may involve the production of illicit tobacco. Public tip-offs build on the intelligence we gather from a range of sources and help us to identify, seize and destroy these illicit crops before they are harvested and sold on the black market.”
If you suspect that illegal tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community, you can confidentially report it online at ato.gov.au/illicittobacco or by calling 1800 060 062.
Signs to look out for include intense labour production between November and May, suspicious enquiries about land for lease, unexplained use of water resources and large crops of leafy plants that may resemble kale, cabbage or corn.
Illicit Tobacco Taskforce
The ATO is part of the ITTF that is led by the Australian Border Force. The ITTF was established on 1 July 2018 to investigate, prosecute and dismantle organised crime groups who use the proceeds of illicit tobacco to fund other criminal activity, as well as ensure the appropriate revenue is paid to the Australian Government.
Australian Border Force Special Investigations Commander Greg, Linsdell, said the ITTF is dedicated to disrupting the supply of illicit tobacco and dismantling the criminal syndicates that support the illicit trade.
“As at 30 June 2020, the ITTF has effected the seizure of more than 75 tonnes of smuggled tobacco and approximately 361 million smuggled cigarettes. This is equivalent to over $399 million in evaded duty,” said Special Investigations Commander Linsdell.
Illicit tobacco costs the Australian community $647 million in lost revenue each year. It takes vital money away from the community and places it directly in hands of organise crime groups.
NSW Police Force State Crime Commander, Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith, said police actively target and investigate those involved in the illegal tobacco trade across the state.
“Despite the warnings, tobacco remains a key facilitated import by organised crime syndicates in an attempt to evade authorities for significant financial benefit.
“In the past year, the NSW Police Force have assisted considerably in the execution of warrants and dismantling of locally grown tobacco crops established right across New South Wales – spanning from the Mid North Coast, out to the state’s Central West and Southern Tablelands. Together with our law enforcement partner agencies, NSW Police will continue to put those participating in and facilitating these illicit activities before the courts,” said Assistant Commissioner Smith.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade. If convicted, growing tobacco carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
For more information about illicit tobacco, visit www.ato.gov.au/illicittobacco