Melbourne Tobacco Shop Set on Fire in Alleged Extortion Attempt

A man has been charged with arson and other offences after allegedly setting fire to a tobacco shop in Melbourne’s west in an attempted extortion. The fire caused minor damage to the shop, but no injuries were reported. The man is believed to be linked to a series of arson attacks on tobacco businesses across the city, which police are investigating as part of a violent dispute over illicit tobacco.

The incident occurred on January 19, 2024, around 6 am, at a tobacco shop on Murong Street in Point Cook. According to police, a man drove a stolen Ford hatchback with false plates to the shop and set it on fire using an accelerant. He then fled the scene in the same vehicle, which was later recovered by police.

The fire was quickly extinguished by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and the shop sustained only minor damage. No one was inside the shop at the time of the fire, and no one was injured.

On March 5, 2024, police arrested a 26-year-old man from Campbellfield in connection with the incident. He was charged with criminal damage by fire, theft of a motor vehicle, possessing cocaine, methamphetamine and GHB, possessing ammunition without a licence and committing an indictable offence while on bail.

He was remanded in custody and is due to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on March 8, 2024.

The Ongoing Investigation and the Tobacco Dispute

The arrest was made by detectives from Taskforce Lunar, which was established in 2023 to investigate a series of arson attacks on tobacco businesses and other venues across Melbourne. The taskforce is comprised of members from the Arson and Explosives Squad, the Anti-Gangs Division, the Crime Command and the Intelligence and Covert Support Command.

Police believe that the arson attacks are related to a violent conflict over the supply and distribution of illicit tobacco in the city. Illicit tobacco is tobacco that is smuggled, counterfeit, or untaxed, and is sold at a cheaper price than legal tobacco. According to police, the illicit tobacco market in Australia is worth about $600 million a year, and is controlled by various criminal syndicates and gangs.

Police say that the conflict involves extortion, intimidation, and violence, and that some of the arson attacks have targeted innocent businesses and bystanders. Police also say that some of the arson attacks have involved children as young as 14, who have been recruited by the criminal groups.

Police have made several arrests and seizures in relation to the arson attacks, and have appealed to the public for information and assistance. Police have also warned the public of the health and safety risks of buying and consuming illicit tobacco, and of the legal consequences of doing so.

The Reaction and the Response from the Community and the Government

The arson attacks have caused fear and anger among the community, especially among the owners and workers of the tobacco businesses. Some of them have said that they have received threats and demands for money from the criminal groups, and that they have been living in fear for their lives and livelihoods.

Some of them have also said that they have been unfairly targeted by the police and the government, and that they have been operating legally and paying taxes. They have called for more protection and support from the authorities, and for more action against the illicit tobacco trade.

The government has said that it is committed to cracking down on the illicit tobacco trade, and to creating a smoke-free generation by 2030. The government has said that it is working with the police and other agencies to enforce the laws and regulations on tobacco, and to educate the public about the harms of smoking and vaping.

The government has also said that it is planning to introduce a new tax on vaping products in the spring budget, which will raise about $300 million a year for the National Health Service and other public health initiatives. The government has said that the tax will deter young people and non-smokers from taking up vaping, and incentivise existing vapers to quit or use less harmful products.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *