Last month, the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) celebrated its third anniversary. Since its establishment in July 2018, the ITTF has seized and destroyed more than 264 tonnes of illicit tobacco and over 540 million cigarettes, with an estimated loss of revenue to the Commonwealth of over $870 million.
The ITTF also operates to disrupt domestically grown illicit tobacco crops. The ITTF have located and destroyed more than 118 tonnes of illicit tobacco crops since July 2018, with an estimated forgone excise duty of $161 million.
Since its establishment the ITTF has conducted more than 25 operations undertaken across the country, which have successfully resulted in convictions and disruptions to organised crime groups trading in illicit tobacco.
The ITTF is led by the Australian Border Force (ABF) and includes members from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Department of Home Affairs, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
ABF Acting Deputy Commissioner, Phil Brezzo said the illicit tobacco market in Australia is large and lucrative, with profits of this black market trade often being used to fund other illegal activities by serious and organised crime groups.
“The ITTF is committed to protecting the Australian community from the risk of harm posed by serious and organised crime groups who attempt to smuggle illicit tobacco into and around Australia,” Deputy Commissioner Brezzo said.
“Cracking down on illicit tobacco and the groups that deal in it is a key focus for the ABF and by combining our resources and expertise with our ITTF partners, we are disrupting this activity on multiple fronts.”
“I am incredibly proud of the outcomes the ITTF has accomplished in the past three years and I congratulate all those who have contributed to these outstanding achievements.”
ATO Deputy Commissioner Will Day confirmed that the ITTF enhances the ability of the ATO and partner agencies to proactively detect, disrupt and dismantle the multimillion dollar crime syndicates that deal in illicit tobacco.
“Over the past three years, the ITTF has achieved significant outcomes relating to the disruption and deterrence of domestically grown illicit tobacco,” Mr Day said.
“Organised criminals view the illicit tobacco trade as low-risk and high-reward, but this simply isn’t the case. The results we’ve achieved together have had a major impact on organised criminals and should serve as a warning to those thinking about getting involved in this kind of activity.”
“We will continue to work together to ensure that illegal and harmful tobacco or ‘chop-chop’ aren’t sold, consumed or manufactured, and that criminals cease robbing the Australian community of valuable revenue which could have been used to fund vital community services.”
“Removing illicit tobacco from crop to shop also creates a level playing field for small businesses.”
“AUSTRAC and its industry partners’ contribution to the ITTF has enabled taskforce investigators to better target illicit tobacco and the associated proceeds of crime,” AUSTRAC Deputy CEO Intelligence John Moss said.
“AUSTRAC’s financial intelligence has improved law enforcement understanding of illicit tobacco payment methods to better identify criminals and their assets for confiscation.”
“It is a privilege to be a part of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce with our partners. Intelligence on ITTF operations over the 3 years clearly indicates that serious and organised crime groups engage in illicit tobacco importations to generate profit and use it as a platform for further illicit drug importations that cause immeasurable harm in the community,” ACIC Acting Deputy CEO Matthew Rippon said.
Whilst illicit tobacco may appear to be cheaper than legal tobacco, it comes at a cost.
The penalties for smuggling illicit tobacco are severe and can include up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.
It has also been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than 15 years. The penalties for growing, selling or possessing tobacco, if convicted, carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, up to a $330,000 fine, or both.
Anyone with information on the importation of illicit tobacco is encouraged to contact Border Watch at australia.gov.au/borderwatch. This can be done anonymously.
If you suspect that illicit tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community you can confidentially report it to one of the taskforce agencies by completing the tip-off form, www.ato.gov.au/tipoff, or phoning 1800 060 062.
Media contact: Australian Border Force (02) 6264 2211