The Australian Taxation Office and Victorian Police have seized and destroyed illicit tobacco with an estimated excise of over $31 million.

Following an anonymous tip-off, police officers discovered illicit tobacco crops valued at over $25 million at a property in Nathalia, Vic, and over $6 million worth of tobacco crops at another property in Katunga, Vic.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), applauded the work of the Illicit Tobacco Task Force (ITTF).

“We commend the work conducted by the ITTF in disrupting the supply chain of this organised crime. This is a significant seizure of unprocessed tobacco (chop chop), that poses significant community risks to those that consume it and also takes away important revenue from legitimate businesses who are doing the right thing and selling product that consumers know is regulated accordingly.”

Foukkare said that chop chop and imported contraband cigarettes account for one in five packets sold in Australia and costs the Australian Government $3.4 billion in lost excise revenue, not to mention the lost foot traffic and revenue that it costs small businesses throughout Australia.

“There is still plenty of work to be done to slow and hopefully eradicate the illicit tobacco trade in Australia, including harmonisation of state laws, enforcement powers and increasing penalties from where they are today, to ensure that federally and at a state level everyone is pushing in the same direction. AACS will continue to engage governments on this approach.”

Jade Hawkins, Assistant Commissioner at the ATO, said the operations have successfully disrupted the operations of organised criminals.

“Organised criminals utilise small producers and farmers to grow Illicit tobacco to benefit their network. More than 40 acres of mature tobacco plants were detected in Victoria and represent a significant investment of criminal effort.

“Criminals use illicit tobacco as a cash crop to fund other illegal activities. Evading excise duty on tobacco costs the community millions of dollars that could be spent on essential community services.”

Hawkins also recognised the work that the community has to play in disrupting illicit tobacco activity.

“People in the community are one of the best sources of intelligence that we have. Their eyes and ears in their own backyards help us to identify and shut down criminal activities.”

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