ATO and Victoria Police plough illegal crop in Cobram

By Rodney Woods on May 09, 2017
  • ATO and Victoria Police plough illegal crop in Cobram

    The illegal tobacco crop found at Cobram.

An illegal tobacco crop with an estimated value of $9million was seized and destroyed by the Australian Taxation Office at Cobram recently.

The ATO was made aware of the crop, which covered about 5ha, by information provided to it by Victoria Police and the two entities ploughed the crop, rendering it worthless.

‘‘Depending on the conditions, tobacco crops are generally slashed in the first instance and then ploughed into the field. The ploughing of the field maybe undertaken on more than one occasion to ensure the crop is properly destroyed. Contractors are used to assist in this process,’’ an ATO spokesperson said.

The warrant action, which saw the seizure of three trucks and a tractor in addition to 5tonnes of tobacco leaves, was the fourth in as many months, with similar searches uncovering millions of dollars’ worth of illegal tobacco in Victoria and NSW, the states in which the ATO has discovered the illegal crop is most frequently grown.

‘‘Based on operational activity the ATO has identified that domestic illicit tobacco is generally grown in the NSW/Victoria regions. The ATO generally considers the conditions in these two areas tend to suit the conditions required to support tobacco growing,’’ the spokesperson said.

ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston said the wider community played an important role in helping to stamp out the illegal trade of tobacco.

‘‘If you have suspicion that illegal activity is taking place in your community, you should contact the authorities,’’ he said.

The growing of tobacco has been illegal in Australia for more than a decade, with no licensed tobacco producers growing the crop since 2006.

Mr Cranston said the illegal tobacco trade took potential tax dollars away from the government and put it into the hands of organised criminals.

‘‘This tobacco is manufactured and sold into the domestic market, generally through independent outlets such as tobacconists, service stations or at markets. These outlets usually trade in an underground fashion, affecting the trade of legitimate businesses,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘If landowners are approached by these groups, they can be inadvertently complicit in the illicit activity,’’ Mr Cranston added.

‘‘Our message is that if you are involved in this kind of behaviour, you will be caught and this seizure further demonstrates (that).’’

Since July 1, 2016, the ATO has made nine seizures and destroyed 56tonne of tobacco valued at $47.8million.

■ATO investigations continue. If you suspect illegal activity, phone the ATO on 1800060062.

By Rodney Woods on May 09, 2017

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