Customs arrests Auckland man for attempting to smuggle 2.2 million cigarettes

A 30-year-old Malaysian national was scheduled to appear in the Auckland District Court this afternoon, after Customs arrested him today for attempting to smuggle 2.2 million cigarettes and evade $2.72 million in duty and GST.

This is Customs’ largest-ever tobacco seizure at the border in a single shipment. The man faces charges under the Customs & Excise Act  for defrauding Customs revenue and making an erroneous import entry. The investigation is ongoing and further charges are likely.

Intelligence and risk profiling by Customs identified the shipment that was sent from Malaysia and arrived in New Zealand in mid-July 2020. The shipment was declared to contain 175 ‘roof extension units’,  but a detailed examination by Customs officers found that the stacks of metal frames hid cigarette cartons, comprising 2,208,000 cigarettes.

The shipment was imported under a registered trading company, of which the man is the sole director. Customs investigators executed search warrants at his home and business addresses this morning, resulting in the arrest and further evidence relating to the offending.

Customs’ Group Manager of Intelligence, Investigations & Enforcement, Dana McDonald, says this seizure is the result of solid intelligence, followed by thorough investigative and inspections work by Customs officers, and is yet another example of organised crime involvement in tobacco fraud.

“This shipment showed a layer of sophistication in its concealment, and a deliberate attempt to evade tobacco taxes. This does not come as a surprise, as Customs has been making increasing number of tobacco seizures in recent years that bear the hallmarks of organised crime.

“Criminals will do whatever they can to make money, regardless of the commodity – it’s just business for them. With cigarette prices in New Zealand amongst the highest globally, tobacco fraud is seen as a lucrative business venture for criminals, and sadly we expect this trend to continue.

“The public can be assured that Customs will continue to make significant efforts to prevent criminal activity and hold offenders to account so they stop their illegal activities.”

From January to June 2020, Customs made 227 tobacco interceptions at the border, including 422 kgs of tobacco and close to 1.2 million cigarettes or cigars. This latest seizure means  Customs has now intercepted more than 3.4 million cigarettes at the border in 2020.

Customs’ previous largest seizure of tobacco in a single shipment was 340,000 cigarettes in late-2018. That investigation linked multiple imports, spanning several years, and an Auckland businessman was recently convicted for smuggling 19.4 million cigarettes and evading over $18.7 million in duty and GST. The businessman was sentenced to 5 years and 3 months’ imprisonment.

If you have suspicions about someone involved in smuggling cigarettes illegally, call 0800 4 CUSTOMS (0800 428 786) in confidence, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously.

Source: Customs NZ