CHARGES LAID: Man to face court over huge tobacco bust
A MAN will front court almost a year after more than $60 million worth of illegal tobacco was found growing in Bundaberg farmland.
Australian Taxation Office and Queensland Police Service officers executed multiple raids in the Pine Creek and North Isis areas on March 20 and 21 last year, finding more than $30 million in tobacco crops, which held a street worth double the excisable value.
Declared as the largest ATO investigation in national history at the time, the investigation ran for more than 18 months and new information has revealed the man police believe was the mastermind behind the illicit crops will front court next month.
Although the ATO could not reveal a name, it was confirmed to the NewsMail the man had been charged with unlawful possession of excisable goods and unlawfully moving tobacco leaf, offences which both carry a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.
The man is the only person facing charges over the incident and will appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court next month after he successfully sought to have the proceedings transferred from Bundaberg to Victoria.
At the time of the incident, Bundaberg Criminal Investigation Branch Detective Sergeant Andrew Self told media 16 ATO officers and 12 from the Queensland Police Service executed four simultaneous search warrants in the Pine Creek area on the first day of the two-day operation, and another in North Isis on the second.
The tobacco crops, which covered some 21.6 hectares of land, had been destroyed the same day they were found.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco without an excise licence in Australia for more than a decade and these licenses are rarely granted, according to the ATO.