A MULTI-MILLION dollar illegal tobacco operation has been uncovered growing in Gunbower.
The ATO and Echuca detectives discovered the crop on Wednesday during a raid, described as one of the biggest and most significant finds in the area.
An ATO spokesperson said the excise warrant uncovered 14.9 acres of tobacco, seizing and destroying 9.5 tonnes worth a total excise value of $12.5 million.
No-one was at the property at the time of the search.
“The investigation is ongoing and no charges having been laid at this stage,” the spokesperson said.
Detective Senior Constable Jason Hare of Echuca criminal investigation unit said cultivation equipment was also seized.
“The crop has been very well maintained and attended to,” he said.
“By the look of the plants, there has been some harvesting of it. It could have been there for a few months.”
DSC Hare said in recent years, a number of illegal tobacco crops had been found growing along the Murray River, from Cobram to Swan Hill.
“It seems to be a big industry at the moment,” he said.
“This is one of the biggest crops we’ve found for some time. Crops are normally below 10 acres so this one is significantly above average.”
DSC Hare said the discovery had come about after police received some anonymous information.
The ATO estimates illicit tobacco costs the Australian community $647 million in lost revenue each year.
It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade. If convicted, growing tobacco carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years’ jail.
“The trade in illicit tobacco products in Australia deprives the community of tax revenue that is required to fund essential community services such as hospitals, roads and schools, as well as funding other organised criminal activity,” the spokesperson said.
“If you suspect that illegal tobacco is being grown or manufactured in your community you can confidentially report it online at ato.gov.au/illicittobacco or by calling 1800 060 062.”
In 2018, police raided an Echuca retailer, seizing allegedly illegal tobacco.
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