A Malaysian man has been arrested by Customs after he attempted to smuggle 2.2 million cigarettes into New Zealand.
The 30-year-old Auckland resident tried to evade paying duty and GST of $2.72 million on the products. It is the largest ever tobacco seizure in a shipment at the border Customs has made.
The shipment arrived from Malaysia in New Zealand in mid-July and had been declared to contain 175 'roof extension units'.
Customs said their officers did a detailed examination of the shipment and found the stacks of metal frames hid cigarette cartons, comprising 2,208,000 cigarettes.
The previous largest seizure of tobacco in a single shipment was 340,000 cigarettes in 2018.
On Wednesday morning investigators executed search warrants into the man listed as the sole director of the trading company which imported the shipment.
He was arrested and is due to appear in Auckland District Court on Wednesday afternoon.
Customs' group manager of intelligence, investigations and enforcement Dana McDonald said the cigarettes' concealment "showed a layer of sophistication" but with solid intelligence and an investigation, they were able to catch it.
But she said the seizure "does not come as a surprise".
"Customs has been making an increasing number of tobacco seizures in recent years that bear the hallmarks of organised crime.
“Criminals will do whatever they can to make money, regardless of the commodity – it's just business for them. With cigarette prices in New Zealand amongst the highest globally, tobacco fraud is seen as a lucrative business venture for criminals, and sadly we expect this trend to continue."
From January to June 2020, Customs made 227 tobacco interceptions at the border, including 422 kgs of tobacco and close to 1.2 million cigarettes or cigars.
Their previous largest seizure of tobacco in a single shipment was 340,000 cigarettes in 2018.