Man jailed after smuggling 4.2 million cigarettes into NZ

Source: 1News

A man has been jailed on Friday for money laundering and defrauding Customs after being linked to two shipments containing a total of 4.2 million cigarettes.

Close up of cigarettes with Customs Officer

Hoong Ping Lee, 38 and his 32-year-old accomplice Qiaoye Wang were arrested back in 2020 by Customs as part of Operation Odin. The operation also resulted in the arrests of two others for various roles in an organised tobacco smuggling operation.

On Friday, Lee was sentenced to two years and four months in jail while Wang was sentenced on 27 May to six months home detention for defrauding the revenue of Customs. Both were convicted for evading a total of $4.95 million in taxes.

In 2021, two of the offenders were convicted, sentenced for jail time and subsequently deported.

Customs began the investigation began in July 2020, when 2.2 million cigarettes were found concealed in construction materials sent from Malaysia.

Customs identified three Malaysian nationals and one Chinese national who all contributed to the smuggling of tobacco. This included setting up a shell company, retrieving the smuggled cigarettes from within the shipment, distributing the smuggled cigarettes, and then laundering the cash proceeds.

Search warrants were executed in Auckland in September 2020 at residential addresses, seizing approximately $34,000 in cash and other evidence of cigarette sales.

Customs also charged them with a previous shipment of two million smuggled cigarettes hidden inside similar construction material.

Customs investigations manager Cam Moore welcomed the sentencings, saying these convictions are further evidence that organised criminal groups see large-scale tobacco smuggling and money laundering as a profitable crime.

"Criminals who engage in tobacco smuggling can expect to lose their ill-gotten gains and face serious criminal charges.

"These sentencings show that Customs will take every effort to disrupt the illicit trade in cigarettes and seize criminal proceeds. We are fully focused on disrupting and dismantling criminal networks in the tobacco black market.'

In a separate investigation, 28-year-old man Jianyuan Chen was sentenced to two years and four months’ imprisonment in February 2022 for defrauding Customs revenue, manufacturing cigarettes at his residential address, and cultivating cannabis.

The garage used by the offender Chen to manufacture cigarettes without licence

The various items needed for the manufacturing operation, which included loose tobacco, packaging material and cigarette making machine, were imported by Chen in multiple air and sea freight consignments from China.

He was arrested in March 2021 when Customs investigators executed a search warrant at his Auckland address and found 271kg of tobacco and equipment for manufacturing cigarettes including counterfeit branding for a popular Chinese cigarette brand. A number of cannabis seedlings were also located at the address.