A Malaysian national has been busted trying to smuggle more than two million cigarettes into New Zealand in Customs' largest-ever tobacco seizure.
He was arrested on Wednesday for attempting to evade $2.72m in duty and GST and trying to smuggle 2.2m cigarettes through the border.
Customs' group manager of intelligence, investigations and enforcement, Dana McDonald, said the tobacco seizure - Customs' largest ever at the border in a single shipment - was "yet another example of organised crime involvement in tobacco fraud".
""Criminals will do whatever they can to make money, regardless of the commodity – it's just business for them," she said.
"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 New Zealand-bound shipment, sent from Malaysia, arrived in mid-July.
It was imported under a registered trading company, of which the 30-year-old man was the sole director.
Declared to contain 175 'roof extension units', a Customs investigation instead found 2,208,000 cigarettes stashed inside cigarette cartons inside the stacks of metal frames.
Customs investigators searched his home and business this morning, arresting the man and finding further evidence of his illegal activities.
"This shipment showed a layer of sophistication in its concealment, and a deliberate attempt to evade tobacco taxes," McDonald said.
"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."
Scheduled to appear in the Auckland District Court this afternoon, he faces charges under the Customs & Excise Act for defrauding Customs revenue and making an erroneous import entry.
But further charges were likely, as the investigation was ongoing, a Customs statement said.
"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," McDonald said.
Today's bust dwarfs Customs' previous largest seizure of tobacco in a single shipment - 340,000 cigarettes in 2018.
An Auckland businessman was recently convicted for smuggling 19.4m cigarettes and evading over $18.7m in duty and GST following an investigation linking multiple imports, spanning several years.
He was sentenced to five years and three months' imprisonment.
From January to June this year alone, Customs has seized 422kg of tobacco and close to 1.2m cigarettes or cigars at the border, in more than 200 interceptions.
Today's seizure lifts the number to more than 3.4m cigarettes intercepted at the border this year.
Anyone who has suspicions about someone involved in smuggling cigarettes illegally should call 0800 4 CUSTOMS (0800 428 786) in confidence, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 anonymously.
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