Businessman’s wife jailed for role in New Zealand’s biggest cigarette smuggling case

Stacks of cash were seized during the customs operation.

Provided

Stacks of cash were seized during the customs operation.

An Auckland woman will spend three years behind bars for her role in New Zealand’s biggest illegal cigarette smuggling operation after smuggling more than 19 million cigarettes into the country with her husband.

Hua Yi Zhu was sentenced by Judge Evangelos Thomas in Auckland District Court on Thursday for defrauding customs of more than $18.7 million in tobacco revenue.

Zhu and her husband Yi Zhi Hu may also be named for the first time.

According to court documents previously disclosed to ThingsCustoms launched Operation Whitehorn after being tipped off by an anonymous Crimestoppers caller.

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The caller identified a Chinese man who had a large quantity of cigarettes for sale.

Customs investigators tracked down the man and set up a surveillance operation.

Yi Zhi Hu was sentenced in 2020 to five years and three months in prison after admitting to smuggling cigarettes in shipping containers from China, using their legitimate furniture business as a cover.

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Eventually, customs officers followed Hu to a street in suburban Auckland where he was seen picking up boxes of cigarettes from his supplier, the businessman.

Investigators heard the businessman had rented storage facilities at Kennards in Three Kings and Safestore in Onehunga, Auckland.

Armed with a search warrant, customs officers searched Kennards’ warehouse. Inside they found steel office cabinets. Some were full of cigarettes and some were partially full.

When investigators retrieved CCTV footage from the storage facility, they found the supplier removed more than 330 boxes of cigarettes over a four-month period in 2018.

Customs records show the man’s company has imported 133 shipping containers since August 2015. They claimed the containers contained office furniture. None of the customs shipping documents mentioned cigarettes.

Customs officers found more than $2 million in cash stuffed into trash bags.

Provided

Customs officers found more than $2 million in cash stuffed into trash bags.

Customs Investigations Officer Cam Moore said Operation Whitehorn was the biggest cigarette smuggling operation ever in New Zealand.

“This is the latest conviction in a series of successful customs investigations into large-scale illicit tobacco and money laundering.

“This final conviction shows that Customs will do everything possible to disrupt the illicit cigarette trade and seize the proceeds of crime. We are fully focused on disrupting and dismantling criminal networks in the tobacco black market. »

The police asset recovery unit also seized more than $5.5 million in cash, bank accounts, property and vehicles.

If you suspect someone involved in illegal trafficking, call 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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