One of the biggest cigarette importation syndicates in Australia's history has been smashed by police after trying to smuggle $67 million worth of tobacco hidden in packaged food products into the country.
More than 70 tonnes of tobacco, 80 million cigarette sticks and a quantity of pseudoephedrine was seized by police as part of an investigation by the multi-agency Trident Taskforce.
Police have charged 10 people and have issued 12 warrants across Melbourne's suburbs of Parkville, East Melbourne, Northcote and Macleod.
Border protection authorities alerted police in January to the large amount of illegally imported tobacco, which was concealed in shipping containers imported from Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries.
The tobacco was hidden in legitimate packaged goods including food products, such as noodles and cigarette packaging.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Crime Command Steve Fontana said cash and documents were seized when warrants were executed with those arrested residing in Melbourne.
"This is criminal activity. It's illegal activity. This is one of the largest syndicates of tobacco importation in the country's history," Mr Fontana told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.
"This is a really significant and well-organised group and the sheer quantity of material seized indicates that it is one of the largest with good networks overseas."
Mr Fontana said the syndicate bypassed quarantine controls.
"These people are exploiting the vulnerabilities in our docks. The tax evasion is significant. They're bypassing health controls," he said.
"A lot of these people have set up legitimate businesses as a front for illegitimate businesses."
Mr Fontana said there was nothing to suggest outlaw motorcycle gangs were involved and that he could not comment on how long the syndicate had been operating.
Police will analyse documentation seized on Thursday to provide further leads on how the syndicate has been operating to determine whether further arrests will be made.
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service regional director for Victoria, Graham Krisohos, said Melbourne had the highest number of importations of illegal tobacco than any other capital in the country.
Six people were charged in June with offences including smuggling tobacco and dealing in the proceeds of crime.
The four charged on Thursday appeared briefly in the Melbourne Magistrates Court and were all granted bail to reappear in court in February.