Australian Border Force vehicles attended a Broadford property in late May.

By Colin MacGillivray

An international crime syndicate operating in Broadford has emerged as the target of a joint Australian Border Force, ABF, Australian Taxation Office, ATO, and Victoria Police raid in May.

The Review broke news of a raid at a property on Broadford’s Mia Mia Road on May 31, attended by ABF, ATO and police officials.

On Sunday, the ATO confirmed a transnational tobacco syndicate had been operating at the property, growing illicit tobacco crops.

The syndicate, based primarily in Victoria, is accused of the domestic cultivation, manufacture, importation, distribution and sale of illicit tobacco in Australia.

The multi-agency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, ITTF, said it had seized multiple illicit tobacco crops throughout regional Victoria since February, including at Broadford, as well as disrupting the illegal importation of more 283 million cigarette sticks and eight tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco.

ATO assistant commissioner Jade Hawkins estimated enforcement actions had put a $400-million dent in the syndicate’s operations.

Ms Hawkins said the collaborative approach by all agencies involved was a positive one.

“Illicit tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised crime syndicates who evade tax, steal water, disregard regulations and do whatever it takes to grow their crop,” she said.

“They use their profits to fund their lavish lifestyles and engage in criminal behaviour well beyond the sale of illicit tobacco, at the expense of every Australian.

“As part of the ITTF, the ATO is committed to disrupting organised crime syndicates involved in illicit tobacco from stalk to supply.”

Earlier this year police charged four men with multiple offences following a separate raid carried out by Victoria Police Trident Task Force with support from the ABF ITTF, ABF Investigations and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, ACIC.

Victoria Police Acting Commander Peter Brigham said illicit tobacco funded other ventures that were harmful to the community.

“The sale of illicit tobacco and its links to further criminality, including activities of organised crime groups, can have a significant negative impact on communities and businesses,” he said.

“The profit of illicit tobacco is usually funnelled back to organised criminal syndicates that are involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

“Law enforcement agencies continue to work together to identify, disrupt and prosecute those responsible for causing harm in the community, but I would also encourage people to be aware of what they’re buying and its greater links to criminality.”

Police said the syndicate operating in Broadford was linked to entities of interest to international law enforcement.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, estimates illicit tobacco accounts for as much as one in every 10 cigarettes consumed globally.

“These significant seizures and disruptions illustrate how large the illicit tobacco problem is in Australia and globally. It also demonstrates the sophistication of these criminal groups and their ability to adapt and diversify their operations to ensure continuous supply,” ABF special investigations commander Greg Linsdell said.

“The ITTF will continue to work closely with our domestic and international partners to disrupt the activities of the syndicates in Australia, and also pre-border, to prevent the illicit goods ever reaching our shores.”

People with information about the importation of illicit tobacco or cigarettes can submit an anonymous report to Border Watch at abf.gov.au/borderwatch.

Anyone who suspects that illicit tobacco is being grown or manufactured in their community can confidentially report it to the ATO online at www.ato.gov.au/tipoff or by calling 1800 060 062.

People with information are urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential report online at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

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