Man arrested over imported tea that turns out to be illicit tobacco

A joint Customs and Police investigation has uncovered an alleged illegal cigarette factory in Christchurch, leading to the seizure of a commercial quantity of illicit tobacco and an arrest.

A 42-year-old Christchurch businessman appeared in the Christchurch District Court on Tuesday morning (25 June 2024) on four charges:

  • 1 x using an area that is not licensed to manufacture cigarettes
  • 1 x interference with goods subject to Customs control
  • 1 x burglary
  • 1 x possession or custody of uncustomed goods or prohibited imports (tobacco)

The accused man was arrested yesterday (24 June 2024), following an investigation into a burglary at a Christchurch warehouse a week earlier where boxes of goods described as tea imported from China were being held awaiting Customs clearance.

Customs alleges approximately 80 kilograms of tobacco was stolen in the burglary that took place on Sunday 16 June 2024. The full weight and quantity of tobacco seized is currently being calculated.

As well as the illegal tobacco, Customs has confiscated machinery used to manufacture individual cigarettes, boxes of cigarettes, cigarette branded labels, and almost NZ$2,500 in cash, as well as other items.

Chief Customs Officer, Fraud and Prohibition, Nigel Barnes, says uncovering this alleged illegal tobacco importing and manufacturing operation has stopped significant criminal efforts to defraud Crown revenue and New Zealand taxpayers.

“With the help of Police and members of the public, Customs has been able to dismantle a major black-market tobacco operation where the offender has imported large quantities of loose tobacco with the aim of selling it at a cut-price and avoid paying legally required taxes.

“The alleged offender was not licensed to be importing or producing tobacco products and this offending undermines legitimate trade and revenue collection. Customs continues to focus on identifying and targeting these criminal operations,” Mr Barnes says.

Anyone with information about suspicious activity can contact Customs confidentially on 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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