Major illicit tobacco supplier disrupted during Canberra raids

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The Australian Border Force (ABF) has seized more than 285,000 cigarette sticks and close to 2,000 disposable vapes, as they targeted the sale and distribution of illicit tobacco in the ACT.

Operation BARRACUDA was launched by the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) to disrupt the supply of illicit tobacco and disposable vapes suspected of being illegally imported and distributed in Canberra. ABF officers worked closely with ACT Policing as part of this disruption operation.

Following investigations, ABF and ACT Police officers executed three Commonwealth search warrants on Wednesday (29 May 2024), at a residence at Narrabundah, and two commercial premises at Holt and Belconnen.

During the searches, 285,000 cigarette sticks were seized, along with almost 2000 vapes, about 100kg of loose leaf tobacco, 100 nicotine pouches, more than $14,000 cash and other items suspected of being proceeds of crime.

A 44-year-old man was arrested at the Holt business, and subsequently charged with one count of Hinder Commonwealth Public Official under Section 149.1(1) of the Criminal Code Act (Cth). He was granted bail to appear at the ACT Magistrate’s Court on Thursday 27 June 2024.

Investigations are continuing.

The potential excise value from the number of illegal cigarette sticks and loose leaf tobacco seized equates to about $553,632.

ABF ITTF Superintendent Sasha Barclay said this operation has disrupted an alleged major supplier within the ACT illicit tobacco market.

“ABF officers across the country are stopping millions of sticks of tobacco at the border every single day. In stopping these shipments at the border, we must also dismantle the business models which are allowing this ‘under the counter’ practice to flourish,” Supt Barclay said.

“The illicit tobacco market will continue whilst there is a demand for it – and it’s the criminal syndicates who are exploiting this market to further fund their illicit activities.

“It is also important to recognise the ongoing health impacts which illicit tobacco and vaping products contribute to on this World No Tobacco Day (31 May), the ABF together with our law enforcement and health agency partners are taking proactive steps – through enforcement action and pre, post and at border operations – to disrupt the illicit tobacco and vaping black market.

“It’s hoped Operation BARRACUDA puts tobacconists across the ACT and Australia on notice – don’t expect to fly under the radar, as ABF officers and health officials are watching.”

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