An AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) investigation into a West Australian illicit tobacco trafficker has led to the restraint of about $200,000 cash and eight properties.
The CACT began an investigation under the Commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 after Australian Border Force (ABF) officers seized the cash in late 2021 during an operation targeting illegal tobacco possession.
ABF officers alerted the AFP after locating the cash and almost 970kg of tobacco products when they executed warrants in November 2021 at one home and two commercial properties owned or controlled by a Darch man, then aged 59.
Most of the tobacco was found in a warehouse, with some of the tobacco concealed in hot water heaters and boxes described as containing children’s toys.
The man did not hold a licence or permit to import or sell tobacco products and the WA Tobacco Control Board had previously refused to grant him a licence.
The ABF charged the man in December 2021 over the illicit tobacco and he later pleaded guilty to possession of 500kg or more of tobacco in which excise or customs duty was not paid, contrary to section 308-10 of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (Cth).
He was sentenced in November 2022 to 15 months’ imprisonment, of which four months was to be served in custody before he was released on an 11-month recognisance release order.
The CACT’s investigations focused on the man’s financial activities and suspicions that the value of his assets, which included eight properties, exceeded his lawfully available income.
The Commonwealth’s proceeds of crime laws provide powerful tools for the restraint of both proceeds and instruments of crime, as well as financial penalty and unexplained wealth orders, based on a civil standard of proof. These laws can also operate when there is no related criminal investigation or prosecution.
The CACT successfully applied to the WA District Court to restrain the man’s assets and inquiries are ongoing, with AFP and ABF officers earlier this month (5 December, 2023) executing further search warrants at properties linked to him.
Investigators seized a large quantity of what they allege is illicit tobacco, which was found in bales, as loose leaf and in packaged cigarettes. They also seized more than 6000 packaged nicotine vapes, and more than 200 containers of allegedly unlawfully imported honey, which were referred to other State Government agencies.
AFP Detective Sergeant Gabrielle Adam said removing the benefit from crime was key to disrupting organised criminal activity.
“Many law-abiding Australians are feeling the pain of cost of living pressures, but people who gain money illegally and don’t pay taxes are buying properties and living lives of luxury without the same financial restraints,” Detective Sergeant Adam said.
“The AFP and its partners will hold people to account and make sure they are able to lawfully justify the wealth and assets they accumulate. We are committed to ensuring people do not benefit from criminal activity exploiting the wider community.
“This restraint is a result of the close collaboration between ABF investigators, AFP criminal asset investigators and AFP in-house lawyers in the CACT. The CACT is committed to seeing the legal process through to completion; pursuing confiscation orders in relation to the restrained property.”
ABF Acting Inspector Daniel Howe said there was a common misconception that engaging in the illicit tobacco trade was a victimless crime, but it was far from it.
“Importing and buying illicit tobacco is a serious crime. Aside from the well-known health impacts of smoking, it can fund organised criminal syndicates and support other serious criminal activities that harm Australian society,” Acting Inspector Howe said.
“The ABF is targeting and seizing record levels of illicit tobacco at Australia’s border, and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to shut down these illegal supply chains and target the wealth generated from these crimes.”
The CACT brings together the resources and expertise of the AFP, ABF, Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and AUSTRAC. Together these agencies trace, restrain and ultimately confiscate criminal assets.
Funds derived from the sale of any confiscated assets are placed into the Confiscated Assets Account, which is managed by the Australian Financial Security Authority on behalf of the Commonwealth.
These funds can be distributed by the Attorney-General to benefit the community through crime prevention, intervention or diversion programs or other law enforcement initiatives across Australia. For further information, please visit: https://www.afp.gov.au/news-centre/media-release/afp-restrains-cash-and-properties-linked-wa-man