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Auckland woman sentenced for tobacco smuggling

01.12pm 20 January 2022 | News

Auckland woman Hua Yi Zhu was sentenced at the Auckland District Court today to three years for defrauding Customs of tobacco revenue.

Zhu, 50, was sentenced for her role in smuggling 19,419,400 cigarettes and revenue fraud of more than $18.7m in tobacco revenue spanning a four-year period. Zhu’s sentencing marks the successful completion of Operation Whitethorn, a Customs investigation into a long-running tobacco smuggling enterprise.

Operation Whitethorn began in 2018 when Zhu’s husband Yu Zhi Hu was identified supplying large amounts of cigarettes to wholesale purchasers. In March 2020, Hu was sentenced to five years and three months’ imprisonment for smuggling cigarettes in shipping containers from China, using their legitimate furniture business as cover.

Operation Whitethorn has involved Customs officers using surveillance, detailed analysis of trade and financial data, cargo examinations and search warrants to uncover the multi-million dollar fraud, locating $4.15m in cash at three Auckland addresses. 

Customs also partnered with the Police’s Asset Recovery Unit to seize over $5.5m in cash, bank accounts, property and vehicles as a result.

Cam Moore, Customs Investigations Manager, welcomed today’s sentencing, saying: “This is the latest conviction in a string of successful Customs investigations into large-scale illicit tobacco and money laundering.

“Operation Whitethorn has been the largest ever cigarette smuggling operation in recent Customs and New Zealand history.

“This final sentencing shows that Customs will take every effort to disrupt the illicit trade in cigarettes and seize criminal proceeds. We are fully focussed on disrupting and dismantling criminal networks in the tobacco black market.”

If you have suspicions about someone involved in illegal smuggling, call 0800 WE PROTECT (0800 937 768) or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.