Businessman charged with fraud over smuggling tobacco from Tonga

November 17, 2022
Tobacco seized by customs.

A 59-year-old Auckland businessman was arrested by Customs this morning for participating in illegal tobacco smuggling from Tonga believed to total $1.8 million in avoided taxes.

He is charged with defrauding Customs’ revenue, importing prohibited goods, and making erroneous Customs entries, Customs said in a statement.

"Customs investigations indicate that the tobacco was destined for sale on the local market in New Zealand, in particular amongst Pasifika communities, and that it had been smuggled in two shipments in November 2021 and October 2022."

Customs began the operation into illicit tobacco from Tonga earlier this year following a seizure of nearly 450 kilograms of tobacco in November 2021 as well as reports from members of the public about black market “tapaka” or “Tongan chop”.

Inspections of shipping containers at Customs’ Sea Cargo Inspections Facility in Auckland discovered the smuggled consignments of loose-leaf tobacco hidden among items such as frozen cassava, kava powder and taro products.

A second shipment of similar goods sent from Tonga in October 2022 found another 593 kilograms of tobacco hidden amongst the food items for the man’s business.

Customs investigations manager, Cam Moore, says that people buying cheap tobacco from others’ homes or acquaintances should be skeptical of sellers’ claims that the tobacco is legal.

“Over recent years, Customs has ramped up its tobacco seizures and arrests, and is also seeing an increased overlap of illegal tobacco with other illicit commodities and financial crimes.

“Illicit tobacco is not a victimless crime. It takes money out from our communities and puts it in the pockets of organised crime groups that then go on to use the money for other crimes.”


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