Taskforce Lunar launched to target organised crime involvement in illicit tobacco

Victoria Police has launched a new task force comprised of a range of specialist investigators to target organised crime groups and their current involvement in the illicit tobacco trade in Victoria.

Taskforce Lunar will look at a broad range of criminality tied to an ongoing dispute between organised crime groups.

This includes the recent series of incidents, predominantly arson attacks, targeting tobacco stores across the state.

Police believe up to 29 fires are linked, with 28 of those occurring at tobacco stores.

A significant investigation into the six-month series is already underway, however Taskforce Lunar will formally draw on a range of specialised resources from the Gang Crime Squad, Arson and Explosives Squad, Echo Taskforce, VIPER Taskforce, Criminal Proceeds Squad and Financial Crime Squad.

The taskforce will also work closely with regional police, as well as a range of external agencies such as the ABF, Australian criminal Intelligence Commission, AFP and Australian Taxation office.

While illicit tobacco is not generally investigated by state law enforcement, the high level of risk presented by the associated offending such as arson attacks, extortions and firearms incidents has led to the formation of the Victoria Police taskforce.

So far, police have arrested 13 people in relation to incidents linked to this series.

Investigators continue to appeal to anyone, especially store owners and staff, who has information about these incidents and who is responsible to come forward.

Taskforce Lunar will coordinate a range of prevention and disruption strategies in partnership with local police and Federal agencies.

This includes proactive police patrols targeting potential victims of further offending and regular engagement with tobacco stores.

Detective Superintendent Jason Kelly, Crime Command said the creation of the task force is in recognition of the threat that these organised crime syndicates and the offending linked to their dispute currently presents to the broader community.

“We know who the main players in these syndicates are, and police are doing everything we can to directly target those people in any way possible,” he said.

“… The reality is, any tobacco shop across Victoria is currently at some risk of being targeted. We’ve also seen some stores repeatedly targeted.

“Where we have information about those threats, we will step in and act, however we need those in the industry along with members of the public, to be our eyes and ears.

“If you know something about these arson attacks and who is involved, or you witness any suspicious activity around tobacco stores then we urge you to come forward and tell police.”

Anyone with information about these incidents or with further information about illicit tobacco is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au