Lunar and VIPER seize over $2M of illicit tobacco products in regional Victoria

Members from VIPER taskforce executed 16 warrants across regional Victoria yesterday as part of the ongoing Taskforce Lunar investigation into organised crime syndicates linked to illicit tobacco.

Members of the taskforce were joined at the warrants by police from the Shepparton, Seymour, Yarrawonga and Ballarat Crime Investigation Units, along with representatives from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and the Australian Border Force’s Illicit Tobacco Taskforce.

Police attended 16 stores in Shepparton (6), Seymour, Yarrawonga and Ballarat (8) on Thursday, 26 October.

As a result, the following was seized:

• 39,184 e-cigarettes (vapes) with a street value of over $1.1M;

• 611,833 cigarettes with duty excise evaded totalling over $760,000;

• 153kg of loose tobacco with duty excise evaded totalling over $280,000; and

• Over $16,000 cash, which police will allege to be the proceeds of crime.

An additional thirty six warrants were executed on Wednesday (18 October) and Thursday (19 October) of last week at 34 retail outlets and two residential properties across Melbourne.

Six people were arrested over the two-day period, with a 40-year-old Northcote man charged in relation to drug trafficking offences.

The other five people were released pending further enquiries.

The combined seizures of the four day operation include;

• 92,331 e-cigarettes (vapes), with a street value of over $2.7M;

• 1,324,268 cigarettes with duty excise evaded totalling over $1.6M;

• Approximately 901kg loose-leaf tobacco – with duty excise evaded totalling $1.6M;

• 2kg of cannabis;

• 1kg of cocaine;

• $42,901 proceeds of crime;

• 2 x ASP batons; and

• industrial tobacco manufacturing equipment.

The warrants form part of the Taskforce Lunar investigation into organised crime syndicates believed to be heavily involved in the illicit tobacco trade and an ongoing dispute for profit.

These warrants were executed with the support of the Australian Border Force’s Illicit Tobacco Taskforce and the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA).

Investigators continue to appeal to anyone, especially store owners and staff, who has information about these incidents and who is responsible to come forward.

Anyone with information about these incidents or with further information about illicit tobacco is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at

Quotes attributable to Detective Superintendent Jason Kelly, State Anti-Gangs Division:

“We have been clear that we will target anyone at any level across the state who is involved in the distribution and sale of illicit tobacco, and that involves regional Victoria.

“There can be a perception that it is easier to hide in the country, where people might mistakenly believe they are safe from being targeted and out of constant law enforcement attention. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“As long as people’s lives remain at risk due to this heightened criminal activity, we will continue to do absolutely everything we can to deter, disrupt and dismantle these syndicates.”

Quotes attributable to acting Deputy Commissioner Rebecca Fealy, ATO:

“We are committed to disrupting organised crime syndicates that produce and supply illicit tobacco for sale in Australia.

“Illicit tobacco retailers gain an unfair price advantage over honest businesses who do the right thing. We activity work with our partner agencies to stamp out these retailers.

“The success of these operations would not be possible without our officers who work tirelessly and diligently to detect, disrupt and dismantle organised crime syndicates who use profits from illicit tobacco to fund other more serious crimes.”

/Public Release. View in full here.