Customs investigators have executed search and seizure warrants in Sydney in connection with the illegal importation of four tonnes of kava, an intoxicating powder made from the root of the kava plant.
Kava is used as a social and ceremonial drink especially among Pacific Islanders and in remote communities in Australia.
The investigation began on 20 November after Customs officers at the Customs container examination facility at Port Botany in Sydney selected for inspection a refrigerated sea cargo container from Tonga. When they unpacked the container, they discovered 176 bags of kava among a declared shipment of taro and yams.
Customs National Manager Investigations, Richard Janeczko, said import restrictions on kava were tightened by the Government in June last year.
"The misdescription of the goods as well as the large quantity involved is of particular interest to Customs. Large-scale importations of kava are prohibited and are not allowed except for medical or scientific purposes with the appropriate permits. This restriction was considered necessary to combat kava abuse and significant associated health problems particularly in Indigenous communities," he said.
The standing approval only allows for the importation of up to 2 kg of kava in the accompanied baggage of an incoming passenger (aged 18 years or over) to Australia.
"The importation of small quantities of kava is allowed in recognition that kava has traditional social and ceremonial uses for Pacific Islanders," he added.
"Customs investigators are working to gather evidence to enable charges to be laid by summons against those responsible," Mr Janeczko said.
The maximum penalty for smuggling kava under the Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulations is $110,000.