$264m worth of illegal tobacco seized
Almost 40 million illegal cigarettes have been seized in Melbourne in the past week - one of the biggest hauls of illicit tobacco in Victoria in recent years.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) searched sea cargo shipments from China and X-rayed containers before finding the massive stash of tobacco.
The shipment was declared as synthetic grass and contained 20 million cigarettes, which were not concealed in any way.
A second tobacco shipment declared as glass bottles was hidden behind a cover load and contained 19 million cigarettes.
The cigarettes are worth more than $40 million in evaded duty and the importations are being investigated by the ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF).
"The profits from the illegal sale of 39 million cigarettes have not made it into the pockets of organised crime," Assistant Minister for Customs Jason Wood said.
"Australians who buy illicit tobacco should be aware that the proceeds of these sales are supporting a market dominated by criminal syndicates that use the profits from illicit tobacco to fund other illegal activities."
The ITTF was established in response to recommendations made by the Black Economy Taskforce to develop a strategy to combat tobacco smuggling.
"Since its establishment the ITTF has effected the seizure of over 67 tonnes of smuggled tobacco and approximately 230 million smuggled cigarettes, protecting more than $264 million in duty," Mr Wood said.
"We know that established organised crime groups are diversifying their commodities to include illicit tobacco as it is perceived as a low risk/high reward activity.
"New organised crime groups are emerging that purely focus on illicit tobacco importation and distribution.
"To tackle this growing problem the ITTF is positioning itself to identify threats before they arrive at the border to disrupt the flow of illicit tobacco to Australia."
The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years in prison and fines of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.
People with information about the illicit importation of tobacco should contact Border Watch at australia.gov.au/borderwatch