A joint operation undertaken by Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last month led to the seizure of 19 million sticks of cigarettes being smuggled in the region.
The Australian Border Force has this week revealed details of Project Portcullis 2021 — the ASEAN-Australia Task Force on Illicit Tobacco which was established to combat tobacco smuggling.
The month-long operation was initiated by ASEAN’s Customs Enforcement and Compliance Working Group (CECWG). It saw customs authorities share intelligence information on tobacco consignments to support targeting, disruption, and enforcement activities across the ASEAN region and Australia.
The project enabled customs authorities to inspect an increased volume of suspicious sea cargo and land border consignments via the ‘Alert Notification System’, designed by the CECWG.
ASEAN and the ABF said Project Portcullis ‘has proven to be highly effective’, resulting in the seizure of 19 million sticks of illicit cigarettes.
“Collectively, the task force had detected the abuse of transhipment facilities to smuggle illicit tobacco,” they said.
“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.”
The smuggling and sale of illicit tobacco is a ‘global issue’, and often funds other forms of criminal activities, the entities warned.
“A comprehensive regional approach is needed to address these challenges to prevent the economic and health consequences in ASEAN and Australia,” they said.
“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.”