As authorities target illicit tobacco imports, criminal groups are turning their attention to farming their own crops across regional Australia.
Illicit Tobacco Taskforce Australian Border Force Commander Greg Linsdell said that in the past 12 months there had been a significant increase in seizures involving the domestic growth of illicit tobacco as criminal groups look to maintain their supply after COVID-19 impacted imports.
“My message for those communities where illicit tobacco is grown is that these are not struggling farmers who are trying to make a few dollars, these are people coming in and exploiting regional areas, taking water, damaging soil, using foreign labour and giving nothing back to the community,” Commander Linsdell said.
He added that foreign workers were often offered little to no protection if anything went wrong and put their visas in jeopardy by working on illicit tobacco farms.
The Illicit Tobacco Taskforce is a multi-agency group that combines the operational, investigative and intelligence capabilities of the ABF, Australian Tax Office, Department of Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
The number of seizures each financial year has increased from eight in 2018-19 to 23 for 2020-21, data from the ATO shows.ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said criminal syndicates used the proceeds of illegal tobacco sales to fund their criminal behaviour and it deprived local communities of taxes used to fund roads and schools.
“Retailers choosing to become involved in the sale of illegal tobacco gain an unfair price advantage over small business,” he said. “Removing illicit tobacco from crop to shop creates a level playing field and also helps to stop organised crime syndicates from funding other activities,” Mr Read said.
Read the full article in The Sydney Morning Herald: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/criminal-groups-farm-illicit-tobacco-as-authorities-confiscate-imports-20210719-p58avl.html