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WORLD WIDE PROBLEM: Criminal gangs behind spike in brazen cigarette thefts

THEFTS of cigarettes have rocketed by almost 20 per cent in Victoria in the past five years.

The Herald Sun can reveal an increasing number of organized criminal gangs are smashing their way into supermarkets and service stations to steal tobacco products.

The brazen thieves often arrive with bed sheets so they can quickly scoop up the cigarettes before making a quick exit. Crime Statistics Agency figures for the past five years show that from July 2011 to June 2012 a total of 536 incidents in which cigarettes were stolen were recorded.

For the period July 2015 to June 2016, the number of recorded cigarette thefts rose to 639. Footage obtained by the Herald Sun shows one gang of masked men using an angle grinder to cut the locks of one Brunswick shop.

Cignall Tobacconist owner Jing Li told the Herald Sun she feared thieves were becoming more daring and dangerous.

A man police wish to speak to about cigarette thefts.

“It’s horrible and I have lost sleep since then,” Ms Li said. “Every night I wake up at 3am — it’s really scary. We’re really afraid they’re going to come back. I want to speak out for the community.”

The men were so brazen they targeted her shop, which is just 700m from a police station, and in front of nearby motorists on Sydney Rd.

CCTV shows sparks flying while the men use what is believed to be a bathrobe in an attempt to cover their actions outside the tobacco store.

“My hand was shaking, my whole body was shaking (when she got the call from her security),” Ms Li said.

“It’s horrible. We (business owners) are all scared.”

Victoria Police spokeswoman Kelly Grindley said police were building “significant intelligence” in a bid to thwart the cigarette thieves.

Police believe stolen cigarettes were covered with a tarpaulin in the back of a ute.

“Victoria Police is aware of a number of recent cigarette burglaries,” she said. “This type of offending is not new and infrequently there are spates of this type of crime.

“Operation Euroa is an example where police successfully disrupted a similar type offending occurring in North West Metro in mid-2015. “There is currently a lot of work being undertaken to bring about the timely arrest of these offenders.

“For some time we have been working closely with both individual outlets and their central management to ensure appropriate proactive security measures are implemented.”

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