PETALING JAYA: Three Malaysian men were arrested in Auckland on Monday morning after allegedly trying to smuggle millions of cigarettes into New Zealand.
In a statement, the New Zealand Customs Service said the trio are believed to be linked to a Malaysian criminal syndicate operating in New Zealand.
The men were brought to court on Monday to face joint charges for defrauding the New Zealand Customs Service of revenue and for participating in an organised criminal group, which carries a maximum penalty of five years’ and 10 years’ imprisonment respectively.
The arrests came after New Zealand enforcement authorities searched three residential addresses in Auckland on Monday morning and seized approximately NZ$20,000 (RM55,539) cash and a quantity of cigarettes.
“In recent years, Customs has conducted a number of investigations involving Malaysian syndicates, which show that members are often sent to New Zealand to smuggle and distribute the commodities,” said New Zealand Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry.
“These syndicates often use a shell or inactive company to try to give the appearance of legitimate operations, and we believe this case is no different. We are not ruling out further charges,” he added in the statement.
The New Zealand Customs Service intercepted 2.2 million cigarettes that had been exported from Malaysia in mid-July, the first of three Malaysian cigarette shipments that were seized in Auckland within six weeks.
At the time, it was the agency’s single largest tobacco seizure – with the evaded duty and GST for the shipment amounting to NZ$2.72 million (RM7.55 million).
A second shipment of 2.39 million smuggled cigarettes was intercepted in early-August and a third shipment of 2.31 million cigarettes was intercepted in late-August, with the evaded duty and GST on the cigarettes amounting to NZ$2.95 million (RM8.19 million) and NZ$2.85 million (RM7.91 million) respectively.
Berry said that in the past, the New Zealand Customs Service had largely seen Chinese-branded cigarettes exported from China, but the Malaysian-exported cigarettes were a “game-changer” in terms of the distinctive packaging, sophistication of concealment, and the significant volumes per shipment.
“This is something that our partners in Australia have been seeing for some time – it’s all driven by greed and profit,” he noted.