A man has been charged over an alleged illegal tobacco crop at Bulga, near Singleton, worth more than $9.9 million.
The Sydney man, 33, was arrested at the scene on Wednesday and charged with possession and manufacture of tobacco/seed/plant/leaf 500kg or above in relation to the crop.
A total of 50.3 tonnes of tobacco was seized from the crop, which was approximately seven acres in size.
Approximately two hectares of illegal tobacco crops and just under a hectare of immature planted seedlings found at the property were destroyed. Officers also seized industrial equipment used in the growing and manufacturing of illicit tobacco, including a planting machine, a tractor, a spray boom and fertiliser.
He was granted conditional bail to appear in Singleton Local Court on February 11.
The arrest came after a multi-agency investigation spanning several months involving police from Hunter Valley and the Rural Crime Prevention Team, the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Border Force under Operation Bellatrix.
The ATO estimates that illicit tobacco costs the Australian community $822 million in lost revenue each year.
ABF Assistant Commissioner South and Enforcement Phil Brezzo said people who engaged in the illicit tobacco trade – whether it is growing, importing, supplying or buying black market tobacco – not only put money into the hands of organised criminals, but deprived the community of tax revenue required to fund essential services such as roads, schools and hospitals.
ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read urged people to report any activity they suspect may involve the production of illicit tobacco.
“Public tip offs build on the intelligence we gather from a range of sources and help us to identify, seize and destroy these illicit crops before they are harvested and sold on the black market,” Mr Read said.
“Signs to look out for include intense labour production between November and May, suspicious inquiries about land for lease, unexplained use of water resources and large crops of leafy plants that may resemble kale, cabbage or corn.
“If you see a crop of tobacco, you can be certain it’s not legal. It has been illegal to grow tobacco in Australia for more than a decade.”
Hunter Valley Police District commander Acting Superintendent Michael Gorman said these joint operations were greatly assisted by the community coming forward with information.
“The public are our eyes and ears on the ground, if you see any suspicious activity in your neighbourhood and you think criminal activity may be occurring, please contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or your local police station.” Acting Superintendent Gorman said.