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  • ATO burns a $52 million hole in illicit tobacco trade

    The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has seized and destroyed over 276,000 kilograms of illicit tobacco across two separate properties in regional NSW.

    Illicit tobacco equivalent to the weight of approximately 14 bulldozers was seized, with a total estimated foregone excise value of more than $52 million.

    On Tuesday 29 March the ATO and the NSW Police Force executed search warrants on a property in Thule, NSW.

    Upon searching the property, officers discovered four separate illicit tobacco crops totalling over 33 acres. Also discovered were 756 kilograms of tobacco leaves stored on site in hessian bags. The excise forgone at the Thule seizure is estimated at more than $40 million.

    On Thursday 31 March, search warrants were executed at a property in the Snowy Valleys region, NSW. The tobacco crops were 7.6 acres in size, with the excise foregone estimated at more than $11.3 million.

    Two kilns containing over 4,000 kilograms of drying tobacco, five bales of tobacco and bags of ‘chop-chop’ were located on the property within a shed, garage and house. Two diesel pumps and a tractor were also seized as part of the operation.

    Acting Assistant Commissioner Megan Croaker said these raids send a strong message to anyone dealing in illicit tobacco, that the ATO works closely with law enforcement agencies to detect and disrupt crops.

    ‘Illicit tobacco is often grown by organised crime syndicates and the trade deprives the community of millions of dollars of taxes that could otherwise be used to fund essential community services.

    We work with the community and our partner agencies, using a range of investigative and legislative approaches to disrupt illicit tobacco activity.

    “November to May is peak growing season for illicit tobacco crops. We urge the community to look out for unusual farm works, earthworks along creeks or riverbeds and large, leafy plant crops that resemble kale, cabbage or corn,” Ms Croaker said.

    “Our efforts to dismantle these two growing operations in NSW, follow on from a number of illicit tobacco busts we have conducted in recent weeks.” Ms Croaker said.

    It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade. Penalties for growing, selling or possessing illicit tobacco are significant. If convicted, criminals may face up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of at least $333,000, or both.

    If you suspect that someone is storing illicit tobacco in your community, you can report it anonymously to the ATO by completing the tip-off form,, or phoning 1800 060 062.

    For more information on illicit tobacco visit and download our infographic (PDF, 567KB)This link will download a file.

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    Last modified: 04 Apr 2022QC 69192