Police have charged two men and seized four guns and a significant amount of illicit tobacco as part of an investigation by Taskforce Lunar into a series of suspicious fires across Melbourne last year connected to the current illicit tobacco dispute.
Warrants were executed yesterday by the Lunar and VIPER taskforces at four properties in Epping (2), Campbellfield and Thomastown.
A 25-year-old Epping man, 40-year-old Campbellfield man and a 48-year-old Thomastown man were arrested and subsequently interviewed by police.
The Epping a has been charged with arson (x4) and extortion while the Thomastown man has been charged with possess carry or use unregistered long arm, non prohibited person possess handgun without a licence, possession of traffickable quantity of firearms and handle stolen goods.
Both were remanded in custody overnight and will appear at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today.
The Campbellfield man was released pending further enquiries.
Police seized the following from the Campbellfield address:
• 615kg of loose tobacco valued at approximately $800,000;
• Almost 725,000 cigarettes with an excise value of $750,000; and
• 1068 vapes valued at approximately $30,000.
From the Thomastown property, police seized four firearms including two rifles, a handgun and an imitation longarm, as well as a range of ammunition.
The investigation remains ongoing.
Detectives will allege the Epping man was responsible for commissioning a number of arson attacks on businesses last year, including:
• A fire at a tobacco store in Glenroy on 9 October;
• Two fires at the same Docklands restaurant on 18 and 20 November; and
• A fire at a reception centre in Tullamarine on 8 December.
He has also been charged in relation to a threat against a tobacco store owner in Glenroy on 24 September.
The man was interviewed in relation to a fire at a Williamstown North business on 5 October and a fire at a Docklands restaurant on 8 December, however has not been charged in relation to those matters at this time.
Taskforce Lunar currently has 31 active arson investigations, which include tobacco stores, vehicles, gyms, restaurants and private addresses.
A significant investigation into the series is underway with Taskforce Lunar drawing on a range of specialised resources from the Gang Crime Squad, Arson and Explosives Squad, Echo Taskforce, VIPER Taskforce, Criminal Proceeds Squad and Financial Crime Squad.
The taskforce is also working closely with regional police, as well as a range of external agencies such as the ABF, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), AFP and ATO.
At this time, Taskforce Lunar investigators believe the current situation is as a result of criminal syndicates in conflict due to competition for profit derived from the illicit tobacco market.
The current conflict includes both the physical placement of illicit tobacco into stores, as well as demands for stores to sell the syndicate’s illicit product and to pay a ‘tax’ per week to operate.
Police believe the syndicates are comprised of personnel from Middle Eastern Organised Crime groups and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, who are then engaging local networked youth, street gangs and other low-level criminal to carry out the offending.
Investigators continue to appeal to anyone, especially store owners and staff, who has information about these incidents and who is responsible to come forward.
Anyone with information about these incidents or with further information about illicit tobacco is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au
For further information, please visit: https://www.police.vic.gov.au/two-men-charged-and-guns-and-tobacco-sized-part-taskforce-lunar-investigation