Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

Police act to stub out tobacco crimes

Wellington Police Constable Harley Jay Mounsey with the haul of tobacco seized as part of investigations into thefts from Imperial Tobacco. PHOTO / SUPPLIED
Wellington Police Constable Harley Jay Mounsey with the haul of tobacco seized as part of investigations into thefts from Imperial Tobacco. PHOTO / SUPPLIED

• Major police operation nets 11 people accused of stealing from Big Tobacco
• Huge haul of tobacco, $60,000 cash and a brand new car seized from Wellington homes
• 10 Imperial Tobacco employees and one of their family members arrested
• Violent robberies targeting tobacco are increasing nationwide

The arrest of 10 tobacco company employees and one of their family members is the latest police sting to nab offenders believed to be stealing for the blackmarket.

Police yesterday seized hundreds of thousands of dollars of tobacco, allegedly stolen from Imperial Tobacco in Petone, Wellington.

The haul was discovered during searches of homes in Hutt Valley and Porirua. Officers also seized more than $60,000 cash and a brand new vehicle.

Nine men and two women were arrested in the busts, 10 of them employees of the company and the other a family member of an employee.

Detective Senior Sergeant Tim Leitch said the raids were a culmination of a two month operation.

Thefts Increasing

Anecdotally, tobacco thefts - often violent and targeting service stations, dairies or liquor stores - have been on the increase in recent months.

Imperial Tobacco spokeswoman Louise Evans McDonald said the company had "definitely seen" an increase in its retailers being targeted.

She said she could not comment on the police operation while it was before the courts, but said the company was working with all its retailers to deter robbers.

"We work with all our retailers who have been targeted as well as all our general retailers around safety at all times."

There have been at least 15 burglaries and robberies of commercial premises targeting cigarettes in Northland alone in the past three months, with two on Sunday morning.

The latest Statistics New Zealand crime figures for the year to June 30 also showed a 12 percent increase in robberies across the country.

Stubbing out the crimes

While these cannot be specifically linked to tobacco thefts, police have noticed an increase in the crimes and are cracking down.

"Police [are] concerned at any increase in crime, including robberies of service stations, dairies and other retailers," said Leitch.

"These and other related products have always been a popular target for thieves."

"Any robbery, including those involving violence or a threat of violence is of concern and is taken seriously by police."

He said operations have been launched throughout the country to target hot spots of the crimes.

Counties Manukau Police set up a special investigations unit earlier this year to solve 10 aggravated robberies that occurred in a number of weeks at service stations there.

This week, residents of Whangarei Heads launched a Givealittle page to fund a CCTV camera after repeated ram raids on a local service station.

Leitch said those buying the tobacco - which is commonly sold over social media - should also be warned.

"Anyone receiving stolen items can face serious charges if caught. If an offer seems too good to be true, then it usually is.

"Anyone involved with the illegal selling or buying of tobacco or other products is likely to find themselves the subject of Police interest."

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Greg Newbold has said black market tobacco was not traditionally popular in New Zealand, but it didn't surprise him that this was occurring.

- NZ Herald

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