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ATO bust: Man sentenced over 'dodgy' $250k find

A sign and logo for the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
The ATO has busted an illegal tobacco ring. (Source: Getty)

A man was sentenced last week to nine months in prison, 100 hours of community service and a $5,500 fine, after being busted by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

The man was found possessing more than 600kg of illicit tobacco with an estimated excise-foregone value of more than $250,000.

The prison sentence will be served by way of Intensive Correction Order in the community.

In June 2020, search warrants were executed by the ATO and Queensland Police Service (QPS) at a remote property in Gungaloon, west of Maryborough.

At the property, officers located and seized 428kg worth of tobacco plants. They also found an additional 195kg of tobacco leaf, much of which was drying on steel racks.

During the search warrant, George Samrani identified himself as the boss and said there were 10 people working at the property and he was their “foreman”.

He also said the tobacco plants growing in the field were just “rubbish” and the racks of tobacco leaf were for smoking.

Samrani attempted to load tobacco leaf into the boot of his vehicle and continued to do so after officers told him to stop.

He subsequently pleaded guilty on 21 January, 2021 to two offences of possessing tobacco.

Acting Assistant Commissioner Megan Croaker welcomed the result.

“There are no excuses, it has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade,” Croaker said.

“These are not hobby farms, but sophisticated operations run by criminals knowingly avoiding excise and depriving the community of taxes that are required to fund essential community services such as health and education.

“They also put honest businesses out of business by undercutting the market with their dodgy products.”

It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia since 2006. If convicted, growing tobacco carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

“While we work closely with our partner agencies to gather intelligence and disrupt illegal growing operations, we also rely on information from the community,” Croaker said.

“Signs to look out for include intense labour production between November and May, suspicious enquiries about land for lease and unexplained use of water resources.”

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