Illegal cigarette haul could attract up to $20 million fine

AN ATTEMPT to illegally import 10 million cigarettes into Australia has been thwarted by Customs and Border Protection officers.

Charges were yet to be laid on Monday as officers continued to investigate the haul, which would have cost Australian taxpayers about $4 million in lost revenue if not detected.

If convicted the culprits would be among the first to face stiffer penalties passed by Federal Parliament in October.

Importing illegal tobacco now carries a maximum 10-year jail sentence and/or a fine equalling five times the duty being evaded.

In this case, the fine could be as much as $20 million.

The cigarettes were discovered after Customs officers became suspicious of a sea cargo container from Singapore, which was said to be holding ceramic tiles, on Wednesday last week.

Officers x-rayed the container and immediately noticed anomalies. The container, which was destined for an address in Sydney, was searched and the cartons of cigarettes were found.

Customs and Border Protection National Manager Investigations, Kingsley Woodford-Smith, said that the smuggling of tobacco was a serious crime in that it defrauded the community of legitimate revenue.

"When officers x-rayed the container, it was immediately apparent that the goods had been intentionally mislabelled, in a poor attempt to avoid paying duty," Mr Woodford-Smith said.

The industry tobacco black market costs Australia about $1 billion in lost revenue annually.

Estimates put the loss in revenue from the tobacco black market in Australia at $1 billion annually.

Changes to the tobacco smuggling laws were welcomed by the industry in October.