Police arrest man allegedly behind arson attacks on Melbourne tobacconists

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The man police believe to be responsible for multiple arson attacks on Melbourne businesses last year has been arrested.

Police allege that the man was “responsible for commissioning a number of arson attacks on businesses” in 2023, including at a Williamstown North smash repair on October 5, a Glenroy tobacco store on October 9 and two fires at a Docklands restaurant on November 18 and 20.

The 25-year-old will also be interviewed over a threat allegedly made against a tobacco store owner in Glenroy on September 24.

He is expected to be charged later today, police say.

Police further allege he is behind fires at a Tullamarine reception centre and another Docklands restaurant that both occurred on December 8.

Victoria Police took the Epping man into custody just after 3pm on Tuesday at a Bundoora address.

He is now being interviewed by police.

Detective Inspector Graham Banks described Tuesday’s arrest as a “significant one” for Taskforce Lunar, which was set up to investigate arson attacks connected to the current illicit tobacco dispute.

“We’ve previously made it clear that it’s not just about arresting those who are being tasked to light fires, it’s crucial we make inroads into those higher up in the syndicates who are actively directing this criminality,” he said.

“By targeting those people we hope to cause as much disruption to these organised crime syndicates as possible and prevent further fires from occurring.

“Again, this is reckless behaviour that shows how little regard these people have for the lives and property of others. It puts innocent people at immense risk and it is behaviour we are doing everything we can to bring to a stop.”

Police believe that the current situation — which has seen tobacco stores, vehicles, gyms, restaurants and private addresses lit up in flames — has developed due to competition between criminal syndicates “for profit derived from the illicit tobacco market”.

“The current conflict includes both the physical placement of illicit tobacco into stores, as well as demands for stores to sell the syndicate’s illicit product and to pay a ‘tax’ per week to operate,” a Victoria Police spokesperson said.

“Police believe the syndicates are comprised of personnel from Middle Eastern Organised Crime groups and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, who are then engaging local networked youth, street gangs and other low-level criminal to carry out the offending.”

There are currently 31 active arson investigations in place under Taskforce Lunar.

VIPER Taskforce, set up to pursue those believed to be behind the illicit tobacco market, has executed almost 70 warrants at tobacco stores in Victoria, with the following seized from raids:

  • Nearly 109,000 vapes worth an estimated $3.2 million
  • More than 3.2 million cigarettes worth $3.9 million in evaded duty excise
  • Over one of tonne loose-leaf tobacco with duty excise evaded totalling $1.9M
  • At least 2kg of cannabis
  • At least 1kg of cocaine
  • Almost $100K proceeds of crime
  • Multiple weapons including ASP Batons and swords

More to come.

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