$8.7 million illegal tobacco crop found at Telopea Downs

Wimmera police have seized an illegal tobacco crop worth more than $8 million on a farm at Telopea Downs. 

Kaniva Sergeant Darren Wright said police and Australian Tax Office detectives searched the property on Tuesday and found 19 acres of tobacco plants.

He said the search was part of a joint agency operation between the tax office in Melbourne and Kaniva and Nhill police, known as Trident Taskforce.

“The excise value of the crop was $8.7 million,” he said.

“It was one of the largest seizures the tax office has recorded in recent times.

“All of the tobacco plants have now been seized and destroyed.”

Sergeant Wright said it was a very good result for both police and the tax office.

“It wasn’t a little crop, so everyone is quite happy with the result,” he said.

Sergeant Wright said no arrests had been made in relation to the crop.

“There was no one at the property at the time of the search,” he said.

“The Australian Tax Office is the lead authority on this matter and the investigations are still ongoing.

“Growing tobacco illegally can result in very substantial fines or imprisonment.”

Sergeant Wright said the crop was found on a section of land that was part of a larger broadacre farm.

“It’s a reminder to farmers in the region that if they see anything suspicious, like different crops, they should call police and we can make an assessment from there,” he said.

Sergeant Wright said the search was one of several warrants executed in regional Victoria last week as part of the joint operation.

Other smaller illegal tobacco crops were found at Mooroopna, Dunnstown and Oaklands Junction.

Australian Tax Office assistant commissioner Peter Vujanic said authorities took the detection and prosecution of illegal tobacco growers.

“Engaging in the illegal tobacco trade not only supports organised crime syndicates, it also robs the community by denying them of taxes that would be raised,” he said.

“Growing tobacco without an excise licence has been illegal in Australia for more than a decade and there is no legal avenue for Australian grown tobacco to be manufactured and sold.

“The tax office is concerned that farmers in these areas might be targeted by organised criminal organisations or be at risk of unintentionally becoming involved in criminal activity.

“If anyone is approached about growing tobacco or think they might be unwittingly involved in growing illegal crops, they should let the tax office know as soon as practicable