Search, seize and destroy: ATO nabs illicit tobacco crops

By Tom Ravlic

April 5, 2022

A tobacco kiln
A tobacco kiln (file image). (Marcin/Adobe)

A major haul of illicit tobacco thought to weigh as much as 14 bulldozers was recently seized and destroyed by the Australian Taxation Office.

The tax office found more than 276,0000 kilograms of illicit tobacco on two locations, with a search on a property in Thule uncovering four separate tobacco crops covering 13.5 hectares, in the past week.

There were also 756 kilograms of tobacco leaves packed in hessian bags found on that same property.

The haul of illegal tobacco from the Thule property represented $40 million in excise that the government coffers are without.

Another property was also visited by the tax authority and the New South Wales Police in the Snowy Valleys region.

That visit resulted in law enforcers getting their hands on three hectares of tobacco crops. The excise lost from consolidated revenue from that crop alone sits at $11.3 million.

“Two kilns containing over 4,000 kilograms of drying tobacco, five bales of tobacco and bags of ‘chop-chop’ were located on the property within a shed, garage and house. Two diesel pumps and a tractor were also seized as part of the operation,” a tax office statement of the raids on two properties says.

Megan Croaker, an acting assistant commissioner at the tax office, said two raids are a warning to people involved in growing illicit tobacco crops that the tax office and law enforcers will seek to disrupt their operations.

‘Illicit tobacco is often grown by organised crime syndicates and the trade deprives the community of millions of dollars of taxes that could otherwise be used to fund essential community services,” Croaker said.

“November to May is peak growing season for illicit tobacco crops. We urge the community to look out for unusual farm works, earthworks along creeks or riverbeds and large, leafy plant crops that resemble kale, cabbage or corn.”

There are heavy penalties for people who are caught growing, selling or possessing illicit tobacco, with criminals facing up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of at least $333,000, or both.


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