Police have allegedly seized more than $12 million worth of illicit tobacco from properties in Melbourne and northern Victoria as part of a joint operation between Victoria Police and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Over several months, police searched a remote property at Arcadia, south of Shepparton, a home in the town of Undera, near the Victoria-New South Wales border, and properties in Werribee and Altona Meadows, in Melbourne’s south-west.

Detectives from Taskforce Lunar, which is targeting the disputes between organised crime gangs in the illegal tobacco trade, allegedly uncovered a seven-acre illicit tobacco crop at Arcadia they say would have generated almost $9 million in excise value if sold legally.

No-one was found on the property and the crop was ploughed under.

Two large kilns were allegedly discovered at the Undera home, which investigators allege were used to dry illicit tobacco, along with almost two tonnes of product worth more than $3.5 million.

Five firearms that were allegedly improperly stored were also seized.

A 73-year-old man was served with a notice of suspension and proposal to cancel a firearms licence but the detectives did not believe he was connected to the tobacco investigation.

As part of a joint investigation with Western Australia Police and with the assistance of the VIPER organised crime taskforce, three warrants were executed on homes and a tobacco store in Werribee and Altona Meadows.

It is alleged they found about 50,000 illicit tobacco sticks, 30kg of loose-leaf tobacco, and vapes.

A 36-year-old Werribee man, believed to own the Werribee store, is expected to be charged on summons with possessing and producing illicit tobacco.

Mobile phones were seized from the Altona Meadows home, which police will allege were linked to a “significant leader of an organised crime syndicate”.

“We have made it absolutely clear that we will target anyone at any level across the state who is involved in the distribution and sale of illicit tobacco, and that involves regional Victoria,” said Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt from Victoria Police’s State Anti-Gangs Division.

“There seems to be a mistaken belief that you are safe from being targeted and out of constant law enforcement attention in country areas.”

This could not be further from the truth.” ATO Assistant Commissioner Jade Hawkins said law enforcement agencies were working closely at all levels to dismantle organised crime syndicates.

“Engaging in the illicit tobacco trade is a serious offence and is far from victimless,” she said.

“These crimes are calculated, deliberate, and take vital funding from essential community services such as healthcare and education.”

“Illicit tobacco retailers gain an unfair price advantage over honest businesses who do the right thing.”

The investigation is continuing.

Anyone with information about illicit tobacco is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report online at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

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