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Williams Landing Businessman Avoids Jail for Smuggling Over One Tonne of Tobacco

zakaria el-kurdi at court

Zakaria El-Kurdi, left, leaving the County Court 📷 Herald Sun

Zakaria El-Kurdi escapes prison sentence despite failing to pay $1.6 million in customs duties on illicit tobacco imports.

A businessman who failed to pay over $1 million in customs duty on more than a tonne of imported tobacco products has escaped a prison sentence.

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Zakaria El-Kurdi, 48, from Williams Landing, faced the Melbourne County Court on Wednesday for sentencing on a charge of importing tobacco products without paying duty, acting recklessly.

He was required to maintain good behaviour for three years.

El-Kurdi, who is the only director and shareholder of Alfa Trading Group Pty Ltd, has never possessed or sought a permit to import tobacco into Australia.

In November 2020, Judge Stewart Bayles noted that El-Kurdi organised a shipment from Indonesia, claiming it contained 250 boxes of tissues and 172 boxes of bamboo skewers.

However, an inspection by the Australian Border Force uncovered most boxes contained loose leaf tobacco wrapped in brown butcher’s paper and mixed with coffee beans.

The tobacco-filled boxes were sealed doubly with cling wrap, contrasting with the single-wrapped boxes containing tissues and bamboo skewers.

The total tobacco weight was 1017kg with a due duty of $1.6 million.

Judge Bayles highlighted the reliance of the tax system on self-reporting and the challenges in detecting such offences.

“They are not victimless crimes when revenue is defrauded in this manner and accordingly, there must be a stern punishment to deter those who would be minded to offend in this, or a similar way,” he stated. “It is offending of this kind that has significant financial reward and that means sentences imposed by the court must also be significant and stern.”

El-Kurdi pushed for a non-prison sentence citing his guilty plea, absence of prior similar convictions, and the three-and-a-half-year delay in finalising his case.

The prosecution argued for imprisonment, emphasizing the importance of general deterrence.

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