Man jailed for smuggling six tonnes tobacco and evading $10 million

A 60-year-old Auckland businessman was sentenced in the Auckland District Court today to 28 months’ imprisonment for his role in smuggling 5982 kilograms of loose tobacco from Tonga, evading more than NZD$10 million ($10,300,945) in import and excise taxes.

Six tonnes of seized tobacco in front of a shipping container.Mosese Vakapuna, together with JM Store Limited, were convicted on 23 of charges relating to defrauding the revenue of Customs. His business, JM Store, was also fined $2300.

Customs began its investigation, Operation Constrictor, after a seizure of black market “tapaka” or “Tongan chop” in October 2022, which located 558 kilograms of loose tobacco amongst items such as frozen cassava, kava powder and taro products.

A previous shipment, seized in November 2021, was also linked to the investigation with 510 kilograms of tobacco hidden amongst food items intended for JM Store. Operation Constrictor identified a total of 23 imports sent to the company over a 21-month period.

Mosese Vakapuna was arrested on his arrival into New Zealand from Tonga on 4 November 2022. The investigation indicated the tobacco was destined for sale in New Zealand, particularly amongst Pasifika communities, and it had been smuggled in multiple shipments.

Customs Investigations Manager, Dominic Adams, says even though it is not illegal to import tobacco in commercial quantities, businesses and individuals need to declare it correctly, have the relevant import permits, and are liable to pay the taxes.

“Customs’ message to businesses and opportunists who think they can get away with this type of crime is that – we are very keen to meet with you, and it’s only a matter of time before we come knocking on your door. You could lose everything, your business, your home, and your reputation as a respected member of the community – nothing is worth that risk.”

If you know of someone or suspect someone who is dealing in illegal tobacco, call Customs on 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768), a 24-hour confidential hotline, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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