Investigation into NSW illicit tobacco syndicate

Border Operations 11/04/2023
This is a joint release between Australian Taxation Office, New South Wales Police Force and Australian Border Force.

​​​​PLEASE NOTE: Footage from the operation is available via Hightail: https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/yz8WV2BBf9

Police have raided an illegal tobacco plantation in the state's central west, as part of a joint investigation with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Last year, police received information that an illegal tobacco crop was being grown on a property in Murga, approximately 55km east of Parkes.

Detectives from the Operation Phobetor, comprising of detectives from the NSW Police Force's State Crime Command, the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), and in consultation with investigators from the ATO and the Australian Border Force (ABF)-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, commenced an investigation under Strike Force Naiad and Operation Junglevine 2.

Following investigations, police, ATO officers attended the property in Murga and executed a warrant about 10am last Wednesday (5 April 2023), where they located, seized and destroyed approximately 16 tonnes of illicit tobacco.

The seizure is estimated to have a potential excise of more than $28 million.

No arrests were made, and inquiries are continuing.

The Commander of Operation Phobetor, the joint agency team comprising of NSW Police, AFP, and ACIC, Detective Superintendent Stuart Cadden, has commended on the joint investigation into this large-scale illicit plantation.

“The seizure of this tobacco has resulted in the disruption of the syndicate's supply chain, which in turn means the profits aren't funnelled into organised crime," Det Supt Cadden said.

“The tobacco is simply one source of income that organised criminals use to fund their other illicit activities.

“The NSW Police Force, the AFP, the ACIC, and all our other partner agencies will continue to conduct operations targeting illicit activities. Collaborative efforts are necessary to target any criminal activity which brings potential harm to our community."

ATO Assistant Commissioner Justin Clarke explained that organised crime syndicates continue to orchestrate illicit tobacco growing operations around Australia.

“These operations are not run by genuine farmers or landowners, but by criminals living and operating in local communities.

“Criminals who deal in illicit tobacco pose a serious threat to the Australian community. They use their profits to fund their lifestyles and engage in criminal behaviour well beyond the sale of illicit tobacco.

“Evading excise duty on tobacco costs the community millions of dollars that could be spent on essential community services."

“Involvement in illicit tobacco is a serious offence, and the ATO is works with the community and our partner agencies including state and federal police to stamp out the illicit tobacco trade."

ABF Superintendent Sasha Barclay said criminal syndicates are increasingly turning to cultivating their own illicit tobacco crops in order to bolster supply as a direct result of the ABF's highly effective detection and disruption work on illicit importations at the border.

“What we're seeing is more and more criminal syndicates are trying their hand at cultivation to keep up supply as ABF continues to increase the amount of illicit tobacco being detected and seized at the border," Superintendent Barclay said.

​“These criminal syndicates are sophisticated and run like a business, so they will do whatever it takes to ensure they have a supply and can continue to bring in a profit at the expense of legitimate business owners and the wider Australian community."

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.

If you suspect that illicit tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community you can confidentially report it to the ATO online at www.ato.gov.au/tipoff, or phone 1800 060 062.

Visit www.ato.gov.au/illicittobacco and download the infographic to find out more information about what illicit tobacco is.​