Australia seizes over 70 tonnes of illegal tobacco from Indonesia

Sydney, Oct 16 (IANS) The Australian authorities have seized more than 70 tonnes of illegal tobacco worth almost 40 million Australian dollars on the black market, the country’s largest ever single haul.

The loose-leaf tobacco, housed in three separate shipments originating from Indonesia, was intercepted in Sydney earlier in the year, Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told reporters on Friday.

Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, previously called Australian Customs and Immigration, Roman Quaedvlieg said while the investigation is still ongoing, they are at a point in the operation where they can publicly announce the seizure, Xinhua reported.

“We have a very strong idea who has brought it in,” Quaedvlieg said.

The authorities seized 47 tonnes of tobacco at Sydney’s Port Botany in June while a third shipment of 24 tonnes were sized by the Indonesian authorities before it could be shipped.

On Australia’s black-market this seizure is worth around 40 million Australian dollars ($29.24 million). However at retail prices, it is almost 90 million Australian dollars ($65.84 million), equating to 27 million Australian dollars ($16.83 million) in lost taxes.

The seizure follows raids in Melbourne on Thursday that allegedly found 6 million illegal cigarettes while a further 10 tonnes of tobacco were discovered to have been smuggled into Australia from the United Arab Emirates in June.

In September, the authorities arrested 13 people in Sydney following a 13-month investigation into a smuggling ring that involved corrupt officials.

Dutton used the seizure to announce a new dedicated Australian Border Force team targeting illegal tobacco smuggling by organised crime syndicates.

“There are clear links to organised crime and we know that groups smuggling illicit tobacco into Australia are also involved in other illegal activities such as narcotics,” Dutton said.

“The ABF is determined to disrupt their activities and the new ABF strike team will focus on the organised crime syndicates behind shipments like this and collect intelligence on their operations,” he said.

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