Tip-off pays off as illicit tobacco uprooted in joint raids
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with support from Victoria Police have seized and destroyed illicit tobacco with an estimated excise value of more than $31 million. The raids of 2 separate properties in regional Victoria were prompted by an anonymous tip-off from a concerned member of the community.
Upon searching a property in Nathalia, Victoria, officers discovered illicit tobacco crops totalling over 36 acres. The excise forgone is estimated at more than $25 million.
Raids the following day at a property in Katunga, Victoria, saw officers uncover around 6 acres of tobacco crops. The excise forgone is estimated at more than $6 million.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Jade Hawkins 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,” Ms Hawkins said.
“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.”
The ATO works with the community and our partner agencies, using a range of investigative and legislative approaches to disrupt illicit tobacco activity. This includes taking action on community tip-offs such as in this instance.
“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,” Ms Hawkins said.
“Peak growing season for illicit tobacco is between November to May. Members of the community that notice unusual farm works, earthworks along creeks or riverbeds and large, leafy plant crops that resemble kale, cabbage, or corn can report it anonymously to the ATO.”
Facts for Journalists
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 $412,500, or both.
Since January 2022, multiple illicit tobacco crops throughout rural Victoria have been seized and destroyed, comprising of a total of:
- more than 119.5 acres of tobacco crops
- 535 tonnes of green weight tobacco
- 64 tonnes of total dry weight tobacco
- other tobacco products with a combined excise value in excess of $103 million.
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, www.ato.gov.au/tipoff, or phoning 1800 060 062.
For more information on illicit tobacco visit www.ato.gov.au/illicittobacco and download our infographic.
Information on the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF)
The ATO is part of the Australian Border Force-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF). The ITTF is a joint-agency taskforce that proactively targets, disrupts, and dismantles serious organised crime syndicates that deal in illicit tobacco. Tip-offs provide the ATO with valuable intelligence to assist with current and future investigations.
Since July 2016, the ATO has undertaken 118 seizures totalling approximately 607 tonnes of domestically cultivated illicit tobacco with an estimated $781 million in excise evaded. In 2021–22, the ATO seized 111 tonnes of domestically cultivated illicit tobacco with an estimated $176 million in excise evaded.
Notes to journalists
The ATO with support from Victoria Police have seized and destroyed illicit tobacco with an estimated excise value of more than $31 million.Last modified: 23 Feb 2023QC 71457