From: Sky News (Australia)
A multi-million-dollar Sydney tobacco syndicate has gone up in smoke after police seized counterfeit cigarettes, loose leaf tobacco and enough hard cash to fill several rooms.
Officers from Operation Polaris on Thursday arrested two men, aged 27 and 30, after they allegedly attempted to bribe a commonwealth official at a Sydney cargo terminal on five occasions.
The official reported being offered bribes of between $1000 and $200,000 since June this year to help the men import the illegal tobacco.
It resulted in the seizure from the Sydney waterfront on Thursday of 60 tonnes of loose leaf tobacco and 25 million counterfeit cigarettes, possibly from Indonesia or Malaysia.
Some of the substances and about $450,000 in cash were also seized after properties were raided at Belmore, Greenacre and Lakemba in Sydney’s south-west.
The arrested men, who both have the surname Afiouny, are believed to be the main players in the illegal tobacco syndicate.
‘Both men are main figures in an alleged syndicate which had been importing illegal tobacco through the waterfront,’ Detective Superintendent Peter McErlain told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
‘These illegal imports have the potential of defrauding the commonwealth of over $35 million.
‘We are not ruling out further arrests.’
Det Supt McErlain said he could not comment on whether there had been a jump in illegal tobacco importing to coincide with increases on cigarette taxes but acknowledged that such imports were not new.
‘There’s definitely a market out there for illegal tobacco,’ he said.
‘I don’t think it’s any secret that illegal tobacco and cigarettes are sold on the black market under the counter through various retail outlets within Sydney and probably throughout Australia.
‘(The arrests) send a clear message to anyone out there who intends on importing illegal tobacco to defraud the Australian people.’
The two men have been charged with importation and bribery offences and will appear in Sydney’s Central Local Court on Friday.
Operation Polaris is a joint waterfront operation made up of the NSW Police, the Australian Federal Police, Customs, Border Protection and the Australian Crime Commission.
‘(We) will continue to target organised crime on the waterfront, including illicit drug importation, money-laundering, proceeds of crime, container theft and corruption,’ Det Supt McErlain said.