The Australian Border Force says it has smashed a highly organised tobacco syndicate smuggling illicit cigarettes through Melbourne Airport.
Six Chinese nationals have been charged for their alleged involvement in the illegal operation, the ABF said.
Ninety-four people were detected arriving at the airport with more than 2.7 million illicit cigarettes, between June last year and May 2018, and evaded about $2 million in duty.
They have since been removed from Australia.
Three Chinese nationals were arrested in January for their alleged involvement in the syndicate.
Another two Chinese nationals were charged with importing tobacco products with the intention to evade revenue in May.
Four of the accused appeared before the Melbourne Magistrates Court in May, pleaded guilty, were sentenced to time already served – between 84 and 125 days – and have been removed from Australia.
A female Chinese national, 31, was charged in June with possessing and convey tobacco products, knowing that the goods were imported with intent to defraud the revenue.
ABF investigators targeted passengers on flights from South-East Asian ports arriving in Melbourne.
ABF Commander Investigations Graeme Grosse said in a statement on Saturday the long-running investigation had significantly disrupted the illicit tobacco market in Victoria.
“We are definitely seeing a large amount of illicit tobacco being seized in Victoria and we believe we’ve dismantled a criminal network that was a major player in the market and that was making significant profits from this activity,” Cmdr Grosse said.
“We expect to be able to target more of these operations with the stand-up on 1 July of the ABF-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, which will combine our resources with that of the Department of Home Affairs, ACIC, AUSTRAC, CDPP and the ATO.”
The maximum penalty for tobacco smuggling is ten years imprisonment.