More than $31 million of illegal tobacco has been seized and destroyed after it was grown in fields in regional Victoria.
Raids at two properties near the border with New South Wales uncovered the illicit haul.
More than 36 acres of tobacco crops, estimated to be worth $25 million, were found a property in Nathalia.
The next day, six acres of tobacco crops, worth around $6 million, was found at a property in nearby Katunga.
The raids were carried out after an anonymous tip-off.
Australian Taxation Office Assistant Commissioner Jade Hawkins said the operations successfully disrupted the operations of organised criminals.
“Organised criminals utilise small producers and farmers to grow Illicit tobacco to benefit their network. More than 40 acres of mature tobacco plants were detected in Victoria and represent a significant investment of criminal effort,” Ms Hawkins said.
“Criminals use illicit tobacco as a cash crop to fund other illegal activities.
“Evading excise duty on tobacco costs the community millions of dollars that could be spent on essential community services.
“People in the community are one of the best sources of intelligence that we have. Their eyes and ears in their own backyards help us to identify and shut down criminal activities.
“Peak growing season for illicit tobacco is between November to May. Members of the community that notice unusual farm works, earthworks along creeks or riverbeds and large, leafy plant crops that resemble kale, cabbage, or corn can report it anonymously to the ATO.”
Illegally growing tobacco carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of at least $412,500.
Since July 2016, the ATO has undertaken 118 seizures totalling approximately 607 tonnes of domestically cultivated illicit tobacco with an estimated $781 million in excise evaded.
In 2021–22, the ATO seized 111 tonnes of domestically cultivated illicit tobacco with an estimated $176 million in excise evaded.
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