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Tobacco black market fuels crime wave in Christchurch

By aemetha, Oct 2, 2016 | |
  1. aemetha
    Dairy owners are fortifying their businesses as the lucrative black market for tobacco fuels a wave of commercial break-ins.

    Burglars have targeted up to 20 cigarette retailers – predominantly dairies and service stations – in about the last fortnight in Christchurch, making off with thousands of dollars worth of tobacco products.

    Police have launched an investigation dubbed Operation Smoke as they try to catch those responsible. They are yet to make any arrests, but have some suspects.

    A dairy owner, who did not want to be identified, said thieves smashed through the wooden backdoor of his business in south Christchurch, about 1.30am on September 24.

    They used a crowbar to open a locked cabinet inside and stole about $10,000 worth of tobacco products.

    The dairy owner said he was worried the burglars would return and had struggled to sleep since the incident.

    He planned to install steel doors at his business to make it more secure.

    "I hope police catch them [the burglars] as soon as possible. They are affecting the whole industry in Christchurch. Everybody is . . . angry and nervous about it."

    The dairy owner said it was the first time in seven years his business had been targeted by burglars.

    "I never imagined someone would break into my shop like this."

    The dairy owner blamed the recent spate of break-ins on the increasing cost of cigarettes. The Government needed to be mindful of the unintended consequences of tax hikes on tobacco products, he said.

    Stuff has spoken to other dairy owners, who have indicated they are planning to fortify doors to their stores to try and make access more difficult for burglars.

    That might not be enough. It is understood the recent cases include a burglar who gained access to a dairy through the roof and a ram raid with a car.

    The burglaries appear to happen in clusters. Four service stations were targeted in less than an hour on September 20. One of those businesses was burgled two days earlier.

    Detective Sergeant Craig Johnson said the burglars operated at night and targeted businesses after they closed. In some cases they travelled in stolen vehicles.

    A team of investigators is reviewing security footage of the incidents to identify those involved.

    "I believe some of them [the burglaries] are linked. Obviously we've got some people we're interested in."

    Johnson said cigarettes were a "high value commodity and easy to dispose of".

    "They [the burglars] are taking as many as they can grab. We know there's a market out there for cigarettes sold hand to hand."

    He warned people that if they knowingly bought stolen tobacco products they could be arrested for receiving stolen property.

    Police previously revealed the black market for tobacco was fuelling a spate of dairy robberies in Canterbury. Robbery is a more serious offence then burglary and usually involves someone taking something by force or threat.

    The price of tobacco products in New Zealand has climbed steadily over the last decade as a result of tax increases. A pack of 20 cigarettes is expected to cost about $30 by 2020. A 50g packet of premium loose tobacco, used in roll-your-owns, currently costs about $78.

    Black market tobacco is often sold on the internet at a reduced cost.

    Anyone with information should contact Christchurch police on (03) 3637400 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

    2 October 2016


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