Three arrested as ABF dismantles tobacco smuggling ring in Sydney

Three people have been arrested after Australian Border Force (ABF) investigators smashed a highly organised criminal syndicate in an operation which also netted 2.9 tonnes of loose leaf tobacco, more than 300,000 cigarettes and $97,000 in cash.

On 28 February 2019 ABF officers at the Sydney Container Examination Facility detected 1560kg of loose leaf tobacco in a container from China. The goods were described as “polyester fabric”.

On 20 March 2019, another consignment arrived from China, also described as “polyester fabric”, and was found to contain a further 1320kg of loose leaf tobacco.

The total duty evaded on these two consignments is estimated to be $3.3 million.

On 25 and 26 March 2019, ABF investigators executed warrants at four locations across Sydney – two storage facilities in Kingsgrove and Auburn, a shop in Auburn, and a residential premises in Westmead.

Three men were arrested – a 56-year-old Australian, a 30-year-old Chinese national and a 37-year-old Australian.

They were charged with offences relating to Section 233BABAD(2) of the Customs Act 1901 and appeared in court on 26 March 2019.

An unlawful non-citizen (UNC) was also detained pending his removal from Australia.

ABF Regional Investigations NSW A/g Superintendent John Fleming said investigators had once again been able to disrupt an established and highly organised criminal syndicate.

“This has been the culmination of a 10-month long investigation which has resulted in the arrests of eight people and the detection of five million cigarettes and five tonnes of loose leaf tobacco,” Superintendent Fleming said.

“Our officers have been very successful in gathering intelligence in the field to not only disrupt the junior players but the high-level facilitators of this operation, which will ensure these imports never make it to Australia in the first place.

“We will continue do everything we can to stop these syndicates, which are defrauding the Commonwealth of legitimate revenue, and often funnel their profits back into organised crime.”

The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to five times the amount of duty evaded.

The illicit tobacco market in Australia is worth about $600 million a year in evaded revenue. Targeting and dismantling this criminal activity is an operational priority for the ABF.

In addition to operations like this, the ABF is leading the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce that combines the operational, investigative and intelligence capabilities of the ABF, ATO, Department of Home Affairs, ACIC, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).

Anyone with information on the importation of illicit tobacco is encouraged to contact Border Watch at This can be done anonymously.

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