Thursday, May 23, 2024

Customs seize 1.36 million illicit cigarettes, guns and cash

A Customs investigation has led to five arrests in Auckland and the seizure of more than 1.36 million illicit cigarettes, two firearms, and a substantial amount of cash.

Customs carried out search warrants in Auckland’s North Shore this morning, culminating in the arrest of a 35-year-old man who is scheduled to appear in the Auckland District Court this afternoon, and the seizure of illicit cigarettes and another large quantity of cash.

The raid follows a series of search warrants that Customs, assisted by Police, executed last Friday at three residential properties, a private catamaran, and a storage facility in the North Shore, as well as a commercial business in Greenlane.

Three men and a woman, aged between 35 and 45, were arrested on Friday as a result of those warrants and appeared in the North Shore District Court the same day.

A substantial amount of cash, two firearms, ammunition, and further evidence was found at one of the residential properties. Customs investigators also found 286 black rubbish sacks, containing over 1,300,000 uncustomed cigarettes, in the self-storage facility. This represents approximately NZ$2 million in revenue evasion, Customs confirmed in a statement.

The five defendants face multiple charges including: defrauding Customs revenue, possession or custody of uncustomed goods, sale of uncustomed goods, and participation in an organised crime group. Customs says further charges are being considered.

Customs Investigations Manager, Dominic Adams, says Operation Montreal began in February 2024 in relation to a network of individuals believed to be responsible for the large-scale distribution of uncustomed cigarettes across Auckland.

“Customs has a specialist investigations team that’s focused on tracking down smuggled tobacco to both combat tax evasion as well as other associated crimes and the serious consequences this can have on our communities.”

“This issue is bigger than smuggling or selling cheap cigarettes. Customs is increasingly seeing that well-resourced organised criminal groups are often involved, with cigarette profits potentially being used to fund more serious crimes,” he said.

If you know or suspect someone may be involved in illegal smuggling, call Customs on 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) a 24-hour confidential hotline, or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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