Illegal tobacco farmer cops jail sentence

A New South Wales man has been sentenced for two offences under the Excise Act 1901 (Cth) for moving and growing over 27,000 kilograms of illegal tobacco with a total excise value of over $1 million. Mohammed Karim, 47, was convicted and sentenced to an overall term of imprisonment of 18 months to be released after serving six months. 

The tobacco was first discovered when Mr Karim and another man were travelling in a hire truck on the Hume Highway, New South Wales, and were stopped by Traffic and Highway Patrol. Officers discovered the vehicle contained almost 2,000 kilograms of freshly cut tobacco leaves.

Working with the New South Wales Police, ATO officers later discovered a further 25,000 kilograms of tobacco plants growing on a farm leased by Mr Karim in Austral, Western Sydney. The tobacco plants were subsequently destroyed.

"This is yet another example of the excellent results yielded by our CATCH training program. Since 2009, our officers have recovered over $100 million in drugs, guns, cash and other contraband seized during traffic stops,” Assistant Commissioner John Hartley, Commander of the NSW Police Force’s Traffic and Highway Patrol, said.

"We will continue to work with federal and interstate agencies in pursuing those that are using New South Wales highways to transport illicit goods."

ATO Deputy Commissioner Will Day said the heavy sentence was a stern warning to anyone involved in this type of illegal tobacco activity.

“It has been illegal to grow tobacco since 2006. There have been no commercial tobacco growing licences granted by the ATO since then and there are no licensed commercial producers or dealers in Australia,” Mr Day said.

Mr Day said it was important for people to understand the risks involved in allowing their land to be leased by others and used for illegal purposes.

“People have a responsibility to know what is being grown on their land and unless they take this responsibility seriously, they run the risk of negative consequences for themselves,” Mr Day said.

“The ATO will continue to act decisively to deal with illegal tobacco growing in Australia. We also work closely with other agencies, including the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Customs, state and federal police, and as part of joint agency taskforce initiatives gathering intelligence and investigating potential links to organised crime.”

On 6 March 2015 tobacco crops covering approximately 80 acres were discovered and destroyed in the Merrigum/Kyabram area in Victoria by the ATO with support from the Victorian Police and the Australian Federal Police.

“The illegal tobacco trade is harmful to people’s health, harmful to Australia’s tax revenue and those who try to engage in these activities will ultimately face jail time, significant penalties or both,” Mr Day added.

Last modified: 31 Mar 2015QC 44717