Home > Crime, Law & Courts > 400 tonnes of tobacco seized by ABF over past two years

400 tonnes of tobacco seized by ABF over past two years

The Australian Border Force (ABF) has stopped more than 400 tonnes of illicit tobacco from reaching the black market since its establishment in 2015.

The total duty evaded on the illicit tobacco is estimated at more than $294 million.

In the same period, more than 100 individuals have been charged with tobacco smuggling offences under the Customs Act 1901.

This includes the recent arrest of two Chinese nationals following the detection of more than 7.4 million cigarettes at the Sydney Container Examination Facility (CEF). The duo allegedly attempted to conceal the cigarettes within table tops. The total duty evaded is approximately $5 million.

In an unrelated seizure, a further 31 tonnes of tobacco concealed within hessian bags was detected at the Sydney CEF in April 2017. Investigations into this detection are continuing.

ABF Assistant Commissioner Wayne Buchhorn said illicit tobacco can be sold at more than 60 times its offshore price. He said the ABF will continue to target, disrupt and dismantle organised crime groups involved in illicit tobacco smuggling.

“Illicit tobacco is an increasingly attractive market to organised criminal syndicates due to the lucrative profits that can be made in evaded tax,” Assistant Commissioner Buchhorn said.

“We’re aware that these profits are often funnelled back into traditional organised crime activities, such as the illicit drugs trade. This is one of the key reasons we’re taking such an active role, not just here, but with our neighbours too.”

The ABF has recently run a number of workshops with its international partners to help focus regional efforts, and build on its already strong information-sharing and operational collaboration to tackle the illicit tobacco trade.

In October 2015, the ABF formed a Tobacco Strike Team (TST) to combat organised criminal syndicates attempting to smuggle illicit tobacco into Australia.

Based on its early successes, in May 2016 the Australian Government announced $7.7 million in funding for the TST over the following two years.

“The Tobacco Strike Team works closely with intelligence teams, investigative units and with domestic and international partners and collectively the agency is seeing record results,” Assistant Commissioner Buchhorn said.

“The ABF’s increased illicit tobacco detection rates over the past two years is not just a short-term strike against the illicit tobacco trade, it’s a proactive and ongoing enforcement approach to border protection.

Illicit tobacco can be imported in cigarette, loose leaf and molasses form and across all border streams, including international mail, air and sea cargo, and the traveller stream.

To detect these illicit consignments, ABF officers use a wide variety of technologies, including x-ray, a range of sophisticated substance and trace detection capabilities and detector dogs. Officers also perform physical inspections and often deconstruct consignments if it is suspected that they may be harbouring prohibited items.”

Tobacco smuggling is a criminal offence that denies the Commonwealth legitimate revenue and funds organised crime. The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years imprisonment. Pecuniary penalties of up to five times the amount of duty evaded can also be imposed by the courts.

People with information about the importation of illicit tobacco or other illicit goods should contact Border Watch at www.border.gov.au/borderwatch. Information can be provided anonymously.


Sea cargo: 88 separate detections equalling 29 tonnes of loose leaf tobacco (including molasses) and 44 million cigarettes equalling 35 tonnes.

Total equivalent weight is 64 tonnes.

International mail: 27,029 detections equalling 6.6 tonnes of loose leaf tobacco (including molasses) and 14.4 million cigarettes equalling 11.6 tonnes.

Total equivalent weight 18.2 tonnes.

Note: the above statistics for the international mail are for the six-month period 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2016.

 Total duty evaded is upwards of $54 million


Sea cargo: 128 detections equalling 125 tonnes of loose leaf (including molasses) and 174 million cigarettes equalling 139 tonnes.

Total equivalent weight is 264 tonnes.

International mail: 59,612 detections equalling 19 tonnes of loose leaf tobacco (including molasses) and 44.5 million cigarettes equalling 35 tonnes.

Total equivalent weight is 54 tonnes.

Total duty evaded is upwards of $240 million.

Recent tobacco operations


In December 2016, four men were arrested and 4.5 tonnes of tobacco seized during an ABF investigation into an illicit tobacco smuggling syndicate.

During December 2016, ABF officers targeted a container arriving in Sydney from China, described as containing boxes of paper cups. Within the container, ABF officers discovered 18 million sticks of cigarettes, resulting in the arrest of three men.

In October 2016, ABF officers targeted a consignment which held over 450 tonnes of molasses tobacco before subsequently executing warrants in Perth, uncovering a further 260 kilograms of tobacco.

In July 2016, ABF officers seized more than four million illicit cigarettes after they were shipped to Australia from Korea and arrested one individual.

Licensed from the Commonwealth of Australia under a Creative Commons Licence.
The Commonwealth of Australia does not necessarily endorse the content of this publication.