SYDNEY, AAP – Nearly 280,000 kilograms of illicit tobacco have gone up in smoke with authorities seizing the hefty haul in two separate busts in regional NSW.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) snatched and destroyed the illicit tobacco, equivalent to the weight of approximately 14 bulldozers.
Its total street value is estimated to be more than $52 million.
“Illicit tobacco is often grown by organised crime syndicates and the trade deprives the community of millions of dollars of taxes that could otherwise be used to fund essential community services,” said ATO Acting Assistant Commissioner Megan Croaker.
“November to May is peak growing season for illicit tobacco crops”.
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While searching a property on March 29 in Thule, a small village in south-west NSW near the Victorian border, the ATO and police found 33 acres of illegal tobacco crops.
They also discovered 756 kilograms of tobacco leaves stored on site in hessian bags.
That trove was estimated to be worth more than $40 million.
Two days later, authorities found 7.6 acres of tobacco growing and two kilns containing more than 4000 kilograms of drying tobacco at a Snowy Valleys region property.
The other loot, stashed in a shed, garage and house, was valued at over $11.3 million.
“We urge the community to look out for unusual farm works, earthworks along creeks or riverbeds and large, leafy plant crops that resemble kale, cabbage or corn,” Ms Croaker said.
Those growing, selling or possessing tobacco illegally in Australia can face up to 10 years in hail and a fine of at least $333,000 – or both.