Almost $1m seized in alleged tobacco ring bust
ALMOST $1 million in cash has been seized by authorities in Melbourne in a major bust of an alleged suburban-based tobacco smuggling and money laundering ring.
Six Chinese nationals - four men and two women - were arrested in Templestowe after allegedly importing 2.5 million cigarettes and evading excise taxes of $1.75 million.
Police believe individuals have been acting as part of a syndicate which has laundered at least $11 million over the past six months.
A joint operation between the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force uncovered the cash in Melbourne's northeast on Monday night after receiving intelligence from Chinese authorities as part of a long-running investigation.
The operation began earlier this year when the ABF identified an illegal tobacco importing network.
The AFP then identified the key operators of a criminal syndicate allegedly laundering the proceeds of crime for suspected organised crime figures in Australia.
Australian police worked with Chinese customs agencies to share intelligence which was understood to be critical to Monday's bust.
Federal Law Enforcement Minister Angus Taylor said the scale of the alleged money laundering and evasion of excise duty was "extremely significant".
"This operation highlights the significant links between illicit tobacco and organised crime, which is a key reason we have set up the ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce to go after the key players in this lucrative black market," Mr Taylor said.
"Those who seek to exploit the Australian economy for their own personal gain should be warned the Turnbull Government is continuously working to thwart their efforts.
Organised crime syndicates are believed to cost the Australian economy $36 billion every year.
"This equates to $1,561 out of every individual Australian's pocket and adds 6.3 per cent to the average cost of living," Mr Taylor said.
"This is why we have invested heavily in our law enforcement agencies to ensure they have the resources they need to tackle these threats head on."
The six individuals, who were bailed after being arrested, have been charged with tobacco smuggling and money laundering offences.
They will appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday.
The bust comes after the government has launched a renewed effort on cracking down on money-laundering rings, with extra funding for AUSTRAC, the AFP and the establishment of the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce to target tax evasion.