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Sixteen tonnes of "illicit tobacco" seized 60km from Orange

April 11, 2023

Officers at the scene in Murga west of Orange. Supplied.

By Peter Holmes

Police have raided an illegal tobacco plantation west of Orange, as part of a joint investigation with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), but no arrests have been made..

Sixteen tonnes of tobacco were located and destroyed.

In 2022 police received information that an illegal tobacco crop was being grown on a property in Murga, 60km west of Orange.

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 (April 5, 2023), where they located, seized and destroyed approximately 16 tonnes of illicit tobacco," police said.

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 said: "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.

Tobacco crops destroyed. Supplied.

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

ATO assistant commissioner Justin Clarke said illicit tobacco growing operations around Australia "are not run by genuine farmers or landowners, but by criminals living and operating in local communities".

“Evading excise duty on tobacco costs the community millions of dollars that could be spent on essential community services,” Clarke said.

“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.”

Australian Border Force's 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 disrupting 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.

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