A 50-year-old Tongan who lives in Australia has been charged today in Nuku’alofa after a container containing about 3 million counterfeit cigarettes has been seized by customs authorities in Tonga.
The man, whose name was not released, was arrested on May 12 after custom authorities recovered 2.7 million Manchester cigarettes – a counterfeit brand distributed in Australia.
The arrest of the accused and the seizure of the illicit tobacco was part of a collaborative ongoing operation involving the Tongan Police, Tonga Customs, Tonga’s Ministry of Health and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
The container of illegal tobacco, which was destined to Australia, was seized after the customs officials were suspicious when they found there were no graphic health warnings labels on the cigarette packs.
“The investigation focused on the trade of illegal tobacco, falsifying invoices and tax evasion”, Tonga’s Deputy Police Commissioner ‘Unga Fa’aoa said.
“The investigation is continuing as this linked to other international investigations. There is possibility that more charges will be laid as investigation continues”, he says.
With increased taxes in tobacco products, Tonga and other Pacific island countries are being targeted by transnationals and organized criminal groups.
“I want to remind members of the public that operation and arrest such as this is about ensuring safety and healthy community,” Senior Tobacco Enforcement officer, Tupou Tuilautala said.
The cooperation between domestic and international agencies was paramount to the success of this operation.
“Tonga’s law enforcement agencies will continue to work with their international partners to ensure illegal products do not reach our shores or our streets,” Fa’aoa said.
“Disrupting the supply of illegal products remains a priority for the Tonga Police and the success of this operation is another example of the results that can be achieved through cross-agency collaboration.”