This is a joint statement from the Crime and Corruption Commission, Queensland Police Service, Australian Taxation Office, Queensland Health, Therapeutic Goods Administration and Australian Border Force.
On 29 August 2023, more than $835,000 in cash, more than 8 million cigarettes and about 3.74 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco with a total excise value of more than $14 million, 60,000 vapes with a street value of approximately $1.8 million and six motor vehicles were seized following a multi-agency response into the activities of a Queensland man who was identified during Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) and Queensland Police Service (QPS) investigations.
In February 2023, the CCC commenced intelligence Operation Aberdeen, which included a focus on the suspected money-laundering activities of a 37-year-old man from the Logan area. During the investigation, the CCC obtained evidence indicating the man was allegedly involved in the distribution and sale of illicit tobacco and vape products to retail stores throughout Queensland. Investigations indicated these activities generated significant profits which may have been laundered, and the CCC is continuing to investigate these matters.
CCC investigators identified potential offences in addition to money-laundering and also referred information to the QPS which led to Operation Radius. Subsequently, the CCC engaged several Queensland and Commonwealth agencies which led to the multi-agency response this week.
Due to the various State and Commonwealth jurisdictions related to the alleged offending and regulation of the tobacco and vape industries, the multi-agency response involved officers from the CCC, QPS, Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Queensland Health, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and Australian Border Force (ABF).
On 29 August 2023, more than 150 operational staff from across the six agencies were involved in a coordinated day of operational activity and executed multiple warrants under both State and Commonwealth legislation at 15 residential, retail or commercial locations in the Logan, Redlands and Ipswich areas of south eastern Queensland.
Five trucks were required to transport the cigarettes, loose-leaf tobacco, vapes and other items after they were seized. Operation Aberdeen has also uncovered information the man allegedly fraudulently used more than 50 different identities and investigations continue into these matters.
On 29 August 2023, 58 charges were laid against the 37-year-old Logan man by police officers seconded to the CCC’s Crime Division, which included the following serious criminal offences:
- 21 x obtaining or dealing with identification information, contrary to section 408D of the Queensland Criminal Code
- 29 x fraud offences, contrary to section 408C of the Queensland Criminal Code
- 3 x false declarations, contrary to section 194 of the Queensland Criminal Code
- 1 x assault police officer and 1 x obstruct police, contrary to section 790 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000
On 30 August 2023, he appeared in court but no bail application was made. The man was also charged with one additional offence of possessing tainted property, contrary to section 433 of the Queensland Criminal Code. Further charges are expected.
He reappeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 31 August 2023 and no application for bail was made. He is expected to re-appear on 6 September 2023 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court.
The TGA is continuing their investigations and considering enforcement actions regarding the vapes seized as part of Operations Aberdeen and Radius as well as other suspected unlawful importation, supply and advertising of vapes. Penalties for illegal supply of unapproved therapeutic goods are up to 5-years imprisonment and/or up to a $1.25 million fine.
Chairperson of the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission, Bruce Barbour, said the scale of the coordinated response demonstrates a willingness for law enforcement and other government agencies to work together to combat major and organised crime and to keep communities safe.
“Organised crime will permeate and infiltrate industries to exploit opportunities where there is the potential or actual realisation of securing massive profits from their illegal activities. There has been well-documented infiltration and involvement of criminal syndicates in other industries over the years and it is concerning to see evidence of criminal activity manifesting in the tobacco and vape industry,” Mr Barbour said.
“Many in the community may not realise when purchasing cheap or under the counter tobacco products or vapes that they could be funding organised crime, who then go on to use these ill-gotten financial gains to fund other criminal enterprises. They may have no idea their money may be funding very serious criminal activities in Australia and beyond.”
QPS Major and Organised Crime Squad Detective Acting Inspector Russell Joyce said inter-agency collaboration is crucial in dismantling alleged criminal syndicates.
“Organised crime knows no jurisdictions or boundaries and has no care for the impact on innocent community members,” Detective Acting Inspector Russell Joyce said.
“This result is an example of how a unified investigation can take illicit products off our streets and put alleged offenders before the court.”
ABF Commander Special Investigations Penny Spies praised the effective and close multi-agency collaboration that led to this week’s outcomes.
“The Illicit Tobacco Task Force within the ABF works tirelessly to combat the efforts of criminal syndicates to illegally import tobacco into Australia. It is critical that we continue to work together to shatter the business model of these syndicates – particularly given the serious criminal activity that they fund through the sale of such products,” Commander Spies said.
“The ABF will continue to work very closely with domestic and international agencies to combat illicit tobacco networks, all of which pose a serious threat to the health and safety of our community.”
ATO Deputy Commissioner John Ford said growing or selling illicit tobacco is a serious offence.
“It takes place outside the tax and regulatory systems, and contributes to the shadow economy,” Mr Ford said.
“We are committed to removing funds that are gained from criminal activities, including growing illicit tobacco. This reduces the amount that ends up in offenders’ pockets to fund more insidious criminal ventures.”
Professor Anthony Lawler, Deputy Secretary of Health Products Regulation at the Department of Health and Aged Care, and head of the TGA said:
“Unregulated nicotine vapes are a serious concern in the Australian community due to their availability and increased use, particularly among young people, with health risks including nicotine addiction, nicotine poisoning, exposure to toxins, and serious injuries and burns. Additionally, it is still unclear what the long-term health impacts of nicotine vapes may be.
“The TGA is working with state regulators and other federal agencies as part of strong action to combat the supply of unlawful vaping products.
“I encourage people to report illegal or questionable practices to the TGA or their local health authority.”
As Operation Aberdeen remains ongoing, and this matter remains before the court, the CCC is unable to comment further.
The CCC takes the opportunity to recognise the staff from all the agencies involved.
“This was a complicated operation. The staff involved should be proud of their collective effort and commitment to place the target before the court and to remove illicit products from the market,” CCC Chairperson Bruce Barbour said.
The CCC is an independent agency combating major crime and reducing corruption for the benefit of the Queensland community.Multi-agency operation sees illicit tobacco activity go up in smoke