Over 26 tonnes of illegal tobacco has been seized and destroyed after a joint operation between the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and NSW Police.
The (ATO) executed warrants yesterday (January 23) across five sites at Mount Seaview, near Port Macquarie.
ATO officers, with the assistance of NSW Police, located over 50 acres of tobacco crops, including over 30 acres of mature tobacco crops and 20 acres of seedlings.
An ATO spokesperson said the finding had a potential excise value of approximately $35.5 million.
Ralph Clissold at the Mount Seaview Resort said he is shocked by the news. He said the land was leased and wanted to emphasise that he knew nothing about the illegal activity.
Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said this is a successful outcome for the ATO, the NSW Police and the Australian community.
"The trade in illicit tobacco products in Australia has widespread negative consequences across the community," he said.
"Tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers. They are run by organised criminal syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities.
"Involvement in illicit tobacco production is a serious offence. This type of activity takes vital money away from the community and places it directly into the hands of organised crime syndicates.
"It was also observed that water was being taken directly from the Hastings River to irrigate the crops.
"Growing tobacco uses a significant amount of water, which is a drain on precious resources in a time of drought.
Mid North Coast Police District Commander, Detective Superintendent Paul Fehon said the collaborative effort between local police and the ATO has been outstanding, in dismantling this large tobacco network on the Mid North Coast.
"Our Target Action Group officers have worked closely from day one with ATO investigators to seize this massive haul. This comes as a result of detailed investigation work by our detectives and the ATO.
"No arrests have been made in relation to the seizure. Two men were found to be unlawfully in Australia, they were taken to Port Macquarie Police Station, where inquiries are continuing."
"NSW Police will continue investigations, including into the alleged illegal removal of water from the Hastings River as part of the cultivation process."
"We will continue to conduct operations targeting illicit activities across the Mid North Coast including Commonwealth offences of this nature," Det Supt Fehon said.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade. If convicted, the possession of tobacco over 500kgs carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.
The ATO is part of the Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF), which was established to investigate, prosecute and dismantle organised crime groups who use the proceeds of illicit tobacco to fund other criminal activity, as well as ensure the appropriate revenue is paid to the Australian Government.
If you suspect that illegal tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community, you can confidentially report it online at ato.gov.au/illicittobacco or by calling 1800 060 062.
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