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Werribee Man Investigated in $12M Illicit Tobacco Bust: Joint Operation by Victoria Police and ATO

Police Viper Unit

Victoria Police and the Australian Taxation Office have joined forces in a joint operation to crack down on the distribution and sale of illicit tobacco in eastern Victoria.


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Detectives from Taskforce Lunar, in collaboration with the ATO, executed a Commonwealth search warrant at a remote property in Arcadia on Tuesday, March 26. The operation resulted in the seizure of over $12 million worth of illicit tobacco, including a seven-acre crop with a total avoided excise value of almost $9 million.

During the operation, no individuals were present at the property and the crop was ploughed under the seizure provisions of the Excise Act.

A second Commonwealth search warrant was executed on Tuesday, May 7 at a residential address in Undera. Investigators discovered two large kilns allegedly used to dry illicit tobacco. Approximately two tonnes of dried illicit tobacco, worth over $3.5 million, were seized from the property.

As part of a joint investigation with Western Australia Police and the VIPER Taskforce, three warrants were executed on Monday, June 17 in Werribee and Altona Meadows. The properties were linked to a significant leader of an organised crime syndicate involved in the illicit tobacco network.

During the operation, approximately 50,000 illicit tobacco sticks, 30kg of loose-leaf tobacco, vapes, and a CCTV system were seized from two addresses in Werribee. A 36-year-old man believed to own one of the addresses was interviewed and is expected to be charged on summons.

In addition, mobile phones were seized from a residential address in Altona Meadows.

Detective Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt from Victoria Police’s State Anti-Gangs Division, Crime Command, stated, “We have made it absolutely clear that we will target anyone at any level across the state who is involved in the distribution and sale of illicit tobacco, and that involves regional Victoria.”

He added, “These seizures – and their potential value in avoided excise – are significant, and their impact will no doubt be felt by the organised crime groups operating in Victoria. They will also provide further avenues of enquiry for Victoria Police.”

Assistant Commissioner Jade Hawkins from the ATO also emphasized the seriousness of engaging in the illicit tobacco trade. She stated, “These crimes are calculated, deliberate, and take vital funding from essential community services such as healthcare and education.”

She added, “Illicit tobacco retailers gain an unfair price advantage over honest businesses who do the right thing. Removing illegal tobacco from crop to the shop creates a level playing field for those small businesses.”

The investigation remains ongoing and anyone with information about illicit tobacco is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report online at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

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