Police link tonnes of illegal tobacco to crime boss

Tobacco, cash and firearms worth more than $6 million have been seized in police raids across Victoria linked to an organised crime boss, as a legal fight in the state's tobacco war hits a hurdle.

A joint operation between the Australian Tax Office and Victoria Police's Lunar and VIPER taskforces discovered 3.3 tonnes of illicit tobacco, more than $170,000 cash and 11 firearms as part of their investigation into the cultivation and distribution of illicit tobacco.

Police searched 10 properties across the state and allege they have connections to a significant leader of an organised crime syndicate.

The busts come as Victoria's top prosecutor dropped extortion charges against George Serevetas, who The Age newspaper reports is a stand-over man for exiled gangland boss Kazem Hamad.

He allegedly collected money from a tobacco store owner who was threatened by the crime boss.

"Decisions about whether to withdraw charges are never made lightly," a spokeswoman for the Office of Public Prosecutions said.

"After careful review of the available evidence, a determination was made that in respect of the two charges of extortion with threat to destroy property ... there were not reasonable prospects of conviction."

Serevetas will still face the courts in August on other matters.

Victoria Police declined to comment.

Illegal tobacco crop
Detectives found evidence of a recent tobacco harvest at five large rural properties. (HANDOUT/AUSTRALIAN TAXATION OFFICE)

State minister Colin Brooks said he was aware of reports of witness intimidation linked to Victoria's tobacco wars.

"We would hope that Victoria Police and the justice system deals with people who are seeking to intimidate people (and) perverting the course of justice," he told reporters.

Detectives searched five residential properties in Sydenham, Delahey and Melton South in Melbourne's northwest as part of the joint operation.

They seized 200kg of tobacco, five firearms and shotgun rounds that were improperly stored, documentation relating to the manufacture of illegal tobacco and keys believed to be for tobacco farms at a property in Sydenham.

A 30-year-old man at the address is expected to be charged.

About 900kg of tobacco and cash were found at another Sydenham property with police expecting to charge a 39-year-old man with possessing illicit tobacco to defraud the revenue and possess proceeds of crime.

A 47-year-old man living at a Melton South property was charged with illicit tobacco and drugs crimes, possessing the proceeds of crime and firearms offences.

Police found 1.5kg of cannabis, about $60,000 cash, 10 shotgun rounds and a tonne of tobacco at his place.

Tobacco raids
The operation involved the Australian Tax Office and Victoria Police's Lunar and VIPER taskforces. (HANDOUT/VICTORIA POLICE)

He was bailed to appear at Sunshine Magistrates Court on October 2.

Police seized about 1.2 tonnes of tobacco, about $90,000 cash and six improperly stored firearms at two properties in Delahey.

A 35-year-old man at one of the houses will be charged with possessing illicit tobacco to defraud the revenue, possessing proceeds of crime and firearms offences.

Searches of five large rural properties in Landsborough and Barkly in Victoria's west found no illicit tobacco, but each site had evidence of recent harvests.

Police found 20,000 illicit cigarettes and cash at a separate Barkly property and interviewed and released a 40-year-old man, pending further inquiries.

The seizures demonstrated the police's focus on targeting criminal syndicate leaders, directors, facilitators and organisers, Victoria Police Acting Superintendent Mark Hatt said.

"That remains a key priority for us and we are doing absolutely everything we can to target them, to bring this criminality to an end and to make involvement in illicit tobacco as unattractive a proposition as possible for organised crime groups," he said.