Six people arrested over alleged $15 million illicit tobacco import into Victoria

​Six Melbourne men including some with alleged links to a suspected Middle Eastern crime family have been charged for allegedly trying to import 10 million illicit cigarettes into Victoria after a 16-month, extensive investigation.

The AFP and Victoria Police, under the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce (JOCTF) with seconded members from the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, will allege some of the men work for freight and transport logisti​cs companies in trusted positions.

The six men, faced the ​​Melbourne Magistrates court yesterday (27 February 2024), and are facing up 10 years’ imprisonment for the alleged importation, which had an estimated value of $15 million. It will be additionally alleged the syndicate attempted to avoid paying millions of dollars in Commonwealth excise.

They have been charged as part of the ongoing JOCTF investigation codenamed Operation Tyers.

Search warrants were executed yesterday (27 February 2024) at a number of businesses and homes in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

It will be alleged several of the men have links to a Melbourne-based Middle Eastern organised crime syndicate, suspected of being behind a series of illicit tobacco imports into Victoria.

It will be alleged the Australian Border Force (ABF) intercepted 10 million cigarettes in Victoria after arriving on a sea cargo ship from Vietnam on 3 February 2024.

It will be alleged two of the accused had access to internal shipping and transport systems and attempted to manipulate data relating to the illicit tobacco consignment to evade law enforcement detection.

A Point Cook man, 45, an alleged facilitator for the criminal syndicate, was arrested at a residential property on Tuesday. He is accused of planning and facilitating the criminal tobacco import and using trusted insiders with knowledge of the transport and freight logistics industry in a bid to evade detection from law enforcement and subsequent Commonwealth taxes.

The man allegedly accessed freight f​​orwarding systems to enable the illicit tobacco to be imported without the detection of authorities.

A Fraser Rise man, 35, is accused of using his position employed in transport and logistics to assist the syndicate to covertly collect and move the consignment he believed contained the illicit tobacco shipment upon its arrival into Australia.

It will be alleged three of the group (a Truganina man, 35, an Altona Meadows man, 31, and a Craigieburn man, 35), were involved in the importation and distribution of illicit tobacco throughout Victoria.

The Tarneit man, 40, was charged with alleged proceeds of crime offences and failing to comply with a court order. At the time of his arrest, the man was on bail for an unrelated state offence.

Operation Tyers remains ongoing and further charges have not been ruled out.

AFP Acting Assistant Commissioner Raegan Stewart said the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce had dismantled an alleged criminal syndicate attempting to avoid paying millions of dollars in Commonwealth excise through the use of corrupt trusted insiders.

“While ABF is the lead agency responsible for illicit tobacco, the AFP is responsible for targeting transnational serious organised crime,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Stewart said.

“The AFP protects Australians and our way of life and will target criminal syndicates that use greed and violence to protect their illegal activities.

“This also highlights that organised crime will attempt to make money wherever they can.

“The AFP, with our state and Commonwealth law enforcement partners, have zero tolerance for organised crime groups attempting to profit from illicit commodities while sidestepping millions of dollars in tax obligations.

“Tax avoidance reduces the revenue the Government has to provide services that benefit the entire Australian community, including Federal health support and social services.

“These transnational criminal syndicates will import any commodity that they think they can profit from into Australia and they are facilitated by trusted insiders who abuse the access and influence they have available to them through their employment.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Victorian JOCTF, we have today prevented more lucrative illicit profits from potentially entering the criminal economy and fuelling other criminal illegal ventures.”

Failure to declare the import and pay duties on the tobacco is a Commonwealth crime.

Victoria Police Commander Paul O’Halloran, Crime Command, said these arrests and seizures highlighted the collaborative effort to target those organised crime syndicates involved in illicit tobacco.

“The Illicit tobacco market has become a significant driver of organised crime groups particularly here in Victoria, and we have seen an array of serious and violent offending take place due to disputes between these groups as they strive for an increasing market share of profits,” Cmdr O’Halloran said.

“In particular, the past 12 months has given rise to a large number of deliberate and reckless arson attacks across a range of business, in particular tobacco retailers. We have been very clear about the risk this presents to the broader community and the potential for someone to be killed or seriously injured due to these fires.

“Disrupting these syndicates and putting a stop to this criminality remains a priority for Victoria Police and in October 2023, Taskforce Lunar was created to focus on the investigation of these organised crime syndicates and build intelligence with a view to dismantling them.  Since then, the taskforce has made over 20 arrests with a further 70 arrests made by the VIPER taskforce relating to illicit tobacco offending and associated groups.

“It is critical that we continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners, particularly the AFP and ABF, in order to have the best possible chance of successfully dismantling these organised crime groups and holding them to account.

“There is no doubt that this week’s arrests are key and will likely provide further avenues of enquiry for police. It remains crucial that we look at targeting those at all levels within these organised crime groups, in particular the directors, organisers and facilitators.”

ABF Assistant Commissioner Erin Dale said officers were seizing record levels of illicit tobacco at the border and the arrests of these six men would serve as a significant deterrent.

“Combatting the illicit tobacco trade in Australia is a complex and multi-jurisdictional problem requiring a multi-faceted response.  Law enforcement and regulatory health agencies at federal and state levels are working collaboratively to address the serious organised crime, health and public safety issues of illicit tobacco.”

Assistant Commissioner Dale said a recent funding allocation of $188.5 million over four years would help ABF deliver a new compliance model, in partnership with states and territories, and will boost the capacity of the ABF to combat the illicit tobacco trade at the border.

“This funding will further bolster the disruption and deterrence capabilities at the border, while stemming the flow into Australia by targeting those source and transit countries from where illicit tobacco is originating.”


A Point Cooke man, 45, and a Fraser Rise man, 35, were both charged with:

  • Conspiracy to import tobacco products with the intention of defrauding the revenue, contrary to section 232BABAD(1) of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth), by virtue of section 11.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth), punishable by imprisonment for 10 years, or a fine not exceeding the amount worked out under subsection 233BABAD(5) of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth), or both.

A Truganina man, 35, an Altona Meadows man, 31, and a Craigieburn man, 35, were charged with:

  • Aid, abet, counsel or procure the importation of tobacco products with the intention of defrauding the revenue, contrary to section 232BABAD(1) of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth), by virtue of section 11.2 of the Criminal Code (Cth), punishable by imprisonment for 10 years, or a fine not exceeding the amount worked out under subsection 233BABAD(5) of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth), or both.

And a Tarneit man, 40, was charged with:

  • Dealing with proceeds of crime etc.–money or property worth $50,000 or more, contrary to section 400.5(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth), punishable by imprisonment for 15 years or 900 penalty units, or both.
  • Fail to comply with an order under section 3LA(2) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) contrary to section 3LA(5) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), punishable by imprisonment for 10 years or 600 penalty units, or both.​

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