Australia launches project to tackle illicit tobacco

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In July, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia established Project Portcullis 2021, the ASEAN-Australia Task Force on Illicit Tobacco to combat the smuggling of illicit tobacco.

Throughout June, participating customs authorities shared intelligence information on tobacco consignments to support enhanced targeting opportunities, disruption efforts and enforcement actions across the ASEAN region and Australia.

The smuggling and sale of illicit tobacco is a global issue, with proceeds often being used by transnational organised criminal syndicates to fund other forms of criminal activities that impact our societies.

The collaboration has enabled customs authorities to apply scrutiny to an increased volume of suspicious sea cargo and land border consignments via the ‘Alert Notification System’ designed by ASEAN Customs Enforcement and Compliance Working Group (CECWG).

The operation aims to implement more effective countermeasures to disrupt the global supply of illicit tobacco and combat transnational organised crime. Collectively, the Task Force had detected the abuse of transhipment facilities to smuggle illicit tobacco. A comprehensive regional approach is needed to address these challenges to prevent the economic and health consequences in ASEAN and Australia.

Project Portcullis, which was initiated by CECWG, has proven to be highly effective, the month of action had more than 50 referrals and has led to the seizure of 19 million sticks of cigarettes being smuggled in the region. The ASEAN Directors-General of Customs are committed to combatting Transnational Organised Crime, and will apply similar techniques utilising the CECWG Task Force mechanism to disrupt border-related threats.

Australia, as one of ASEAN’s dialogue partners, will continue to work cooperatively with ASEAN to implement effective countermeasures to disrupt organised crime in the region.