An Auckland businessman who smuggled almost 500,000 cigarettes into New Zealand has appeared in court.

The 40-year-old hid 2418 cartons of Chinese-branded cigarettes - or 483,600 individual smokes - inside boxes of food that he brought into the country last month in a shipping container.

He was obligated to pay $537,542.38 in taxes on the shipment and his failure to declare the cigarettes led to him being charged with defrauding Customs revenue.

Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry said it was not illegal to import cigarettes, but that it must be declared and the correct duty and GST paid.


"Revenue fraud or tax evasion is a serious crime and Customs will not hesitate to prosecute," he said.

Customs seized crates worth of illegal cigarettes. Photo / Supplied
Customs seized crates worth of illegal cigarettes. Photo / Supplied

The seizure was made during a Biosecurity NZ inspection and led to the man appearing in Auckland District Court yesterday. Further charges were also likely, Customs said.

The arrest was the second for large-scale cigarette smuggling in recent weeks.

Berry said Customs worked closely with other Government agencies and "industry partners" to maintain a secure border.

He urged anyone with suspicions about someone involved in cigarette smuggling to call 0800 428 786 or Crime stoppers anonymously.