Police bust alleged bikies in Melbourne’s fiery ‘tobacco wars’

Nicotine addicts get cheaper, untaxed smokes, but their savings buy nothing but trouble for communities.

Nicotine addicts get cheaper, untaxed smokes, but their savings buy nothing but trouble for communities. Photo: AAP

Police have swooped on five suspects believed to be players in Melbourne’s raging tobacco wars, which have seen an ongoing spate of arson attacks.

The latest followed a tobacco shop being destroyed by fire in two attacks in two days.

Police said the arrested men are linked to the Finks Outlaw Motorcycle Gang, with the Special Operations Group called in to arrest a a 41-year-old Werribee man, believed to be a patched member of the Finks OMCG.

He was charged with seven counts of criminal damage by fire and was remanded in custody.

Four others were also arrested, including a 30-year-old Templestowe man and 32-year-old Albion man, both believed to be patched members of the Finks.

They were charged with numerous counts of criminal damage by fire and remanded in custody.

Taskforce Lunar  has 28 active arson investigations, which include tobacco stores, vehicles, gyms, restaurants and private addresses.

Investigators believe the situation is a result of criminal syndicates in conflict due to competition for profit derived from the illicit tobacco market.

Smuggled into Australia, untaxed cigarettes are sold “under the counter”

One of the cheap and illegal under-the-counter brands.

for between one third and half the cost of cigarettes on which excise is charged.

With taxed cigarettes costing around $50 for 30 cigarettes, brands formerly unknown in the Australian market such as Manchester and China-made Double Happiness find an eager market at as little as $16 per pack.

The conflict includes both the physical placement of illicit tobacco in stores as well as demands for shopkeepers to sell the syndicates’ illicit product and pay a weekly “tax” to operate.

Police believe the rival syndicates are comprised of Middle Eastern organised crime groups and outlaw motorcycle gangs, who are vying with local-networked street gangs and other low-level criminal.

Detective Inspector Graham Banks, from the Lunar Taskforce, said police knew who was involved and are targeting those syndicates.

“Today’s arrests are testament to that. They are a strong demonstration of state and Commonwealth agencies coming together to target the issue of illicit tobacco in every way possible,” he said on Saturday.

“Those involved have a complete lack of regard for the harm they are inflicting on the community, and we think it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed or seriously hurt in these reckless incidents.”

Latest arson attacks:

  • A tobacco store on Lloyd Street in Moe targeted on December 25
  • A tobacco store on Main Street in Croydon which was targeted on December 25
  • A café on Lobelia Drive in Altona North targeted on Tuesday
  • A tobacco store on Pier Street in Altona targeted two nights in a row on Thursday and Friday
  • A tobacco store in Sunshine which was targeted on Friday.

-with AAP

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