| 17.07,09. 05:59 PM |
Australian Tax Office seizes illegal tobacco
On Tuesday it seized around nine tonnes of stripped tobacco plants and around four tonnes of tobacco leaf from two hothouses with an estimated excise value of $1.2 million.
An ATO spokeswoman was unable to give details of any arrests linked to the alleged crime at this stage.
Tax Commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo said in a statement released on Friday that the ATO is continually monitoring illegal tobacco growing and sales to detect those attempting to avoid excise duty.
"We have a team of investigators who identify new, and monitor known, growing areas using various methods including aerial surveillance and ground verification for evidence of tobacco growing and cultivation," he said.
It also receives information and intelligence from other agencies and the public.
"On this occasion we received intelligence that enabled us to act quickly to shut down the operation and destroy the illegal crop," he said.
"This is the first time we've detected illegal tobacco being grown and cultivated using a hothouse set-up far away from traditional growing areas."
The illegal crop and a kiln were found outside the traditional tobacco growing areas of Myrtleford, in Victoria and Mareeba, in Queensland.
The legal Australian tobacco growing industry closed in October 2006 when all licences to grow tobacco were cancelled. Tobacco can't be grown without a license from the ATO and a purchase agreement from a tobacco manufacturer.
"Our methods of detection are clearly working and we will continue to monitor the sale of illicit tobacco products carefully to find and take firm action against those people who do the wrong thing and break the law," the Commissioner said.
The seizure is the largest of locally grown tobacco since the closure of the legal tobacco growing industry and follows a seizure of nine tonnes in north-east Victoria in February 2008.
"We've seen a significant drop in the growth and cultivation of illegal tobacco, but this new seizure shows that we have to remain vigilant," Mr D'Ascenzo said.
In 2006 it seized 12 tonnes of leaf and six tonnes of cut tobacco, but typically since only small amounts of several hundreds of kilograms grown locally a year have been discovered.
"This new seizure is a significant size and highlights the organised tactics of those involved in this racket," he said.
The ATO works closely with the Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to combat the illegal tobacco trade.