A 28-year-old man has been charged with attempting to smuggle 9.5 million cigarettes into Western Australia after what the Australian Border Force (ABF) has described as a record seizure for the state.
ABF officers discovered the haul on Wednesday after finding “anomalies” within a sea container when it was examined at a facility in Fremantle.
Further examination revealed 47,500 cartons of cigarettes stuffed inside the container and hidden behind boxes of plastic panels.
ABF officers later raided two homes and a tobacco shop in Morley as well as a storage facility in the southern Perth suburb of O’Connor on Friday.
A further 31,000 cigarettes were seized from one of the homes.
The man, from Morley, has been charged with one count of importing tobacco products with the intention of defrauding the revenue.
He was granted bail on Saturday and is expected to reappear in court on Friday.
ABF regional commander Rod O’Donnell said the haul was the largest of its kind for WA.
“‘This is the largest in the state’s history, so that’s obviously indicating that a range of people are quite organised,” he said.
Mr O’Donnell said every container shipment was screened once it arrived in Australia.
“[In] the immediate inspection we identified some pretty significant anomalies in the image. We then utilised our detector dogs to do a run around the container and they indicated the presence of tobacco,” Mr O’Donnell said.
Cigarettes packaged to look authentic
There are concerns the haul could be part of a wider illegal operation.
“Further investigations are currently under way … we’ll be looking at undertaking action to identify who might have been involved in this syndicate,” Mr O’Donnell said.
He said the cigarettes were packaged to look commercially viable in the Australian market.
Black market cigarettes can fetch half the price of traditional tobacco products.
“In this particular case, the product was actually commercially packaged and had all the looks of what would be legitimate products here in Australia,” Mr O’Donnell said.
“Typically the black market would operate in not your traditional locations, so pop-up stores … we’re not talking about major distribution points like grocery chains.”
Duty payable on the record haul would have totalled about $7.6 million.
Mr O’Donnell said the seizure was a significant disruption to the illegal cigarette trade and the investigation was ongoing.
“We are working with law-enforcement partners, including the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, just to identify who might have been involved,” he said.
The ABF said the illicit tobacco market was worth about $600 million a year in evaded revenue.
Anyone with information on the illegal importation of illicit tobacco is encouraged to contact Border Watch.