Police have raided storage facilities in country Victoria and arrested an alleged illegal tobacco supplier as the number of cigarettes seized in a crackdown on the trade approaches 2.2 million.
Victoria Police on Wednesday confirmed Taskforce Lunar, an investigation into organised crime syndicates in the illicit tobacco trade, had seized 2,145,796 cigarettes with a tax value of $2.66 million since October.
It has also seized almost 984 kilograms of loose tobacco with a tax value of $1.81 million, more than 100,700 e-cigarettes or vapes with a street value of $3 million and 840 grams of cocaine.
To complement Lunar's efforts, the organised crime-tackling VIPER Taskforce on Tuesday raided three storage facilities at Highett in Melbourne's southeast and at Korumburra in South Gippsland.
Officers also raided a home at Hoppers Crossing in Melbourne's southwest and a tobacco store at Korumburra, after receiving intelligence large amounts of tobacco were stored in sheds and supplied to tobacconists daily.
Police seized more than 528,000 cigarettes worth in excess of $656,000 in duty excise, 25kg of loose tobacco with a tax value of $46,000 and more than 1600 vapes with a street value of more than $48,000.
Officers arrested a 48-year-old Hoppers Crossing man who they allege supplied the illicit tobacco.
He was charged with possessing or conveying tobacco with intent to commit tax fraud and was bailed to appear at Werribee Magistrates Court on July 1.
Taskforce Lunar is probing at least 30 serious incidents linked to the illegal tobacco trade over the past eight months.
The incidents have included 29 arsons or attempted arsons, predominantly linked to tobacco stores in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Police have executed 65 warrants and made 18 arrests as part of Taskforce Lunar.
Officers have previously said the serious incidents and firebombings are linked to a conflict between rival groups.
The dispute is believed to include members of Middle Eastern organised crime groups and outlaw motorcycle gangs that use youths, street gangs and low-level criminals to carry out offending.
"Any piece of information could be key in bringing this dispute to an end," VIPER Taskforce Detective Inspector Craig Darlow said on Wednesday.
"It is critical that anyone purchasing illicit tobacco understands the ramifications of doing so - you are directly funding organised crime groups."
Police urged anyone in the community or the tobacco industry with information about illegal tobacco to come forward.
Australian Associated Press