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13 January 2024, 8:28am
Media Release

Five males arrested following series of suspicious arson attacks

This is a joint media release with Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police.

Police arrested five males yesterday connected to the Finks Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMCG) following a series of arson attacks over the last three weeks.

The joint investigation by the Echo, Lunar and VIPER taskforces and the Australian Federal Police is looking into a particular series of arson attacks, including:

  • A tobacco store on Lloyd Street in Moe which was targeted on Monday, 25 December,
  • A tobacco store on Main Street in Croydon which was targeted on Monday, 25 December,
  • A café on Lobelia Drive in Altona North which was targeted on Tuesday, 9 January, and
  • And a tobacco store on Pier Street in Altona targeted two nights in a row on Thursday, 11 January and Friday, 12 January.
  • A tobacco store in Sunshine which was targeted on Friday the 12 January

With assistance from the Special Operations Group, a 41-year-old Werribee man, believed to be a patched member of the Finks OMCG, was arrested at a Werribee address. He was charged with seven counts of criminal damage by fire and has been remanded into custody.

Investigators also arrested four other males being.

  • A 30-year-old Templestowe man believed to be a patched member of the Finks OMCG, arrested at Templestowe and charged with two counts of criminal Damage by fire (Arson) and remanded into custody.
  • A 32-year-old Albion man believed to be a patched member of the Finks OMCG, arrested at Albion and charged with six counts of criminal damage by fire (Arson) and one count of aggravated carjacking and remanded into custody.
  • A 37-year-old Point Cook man arrested at Point Cook and charged with five counts of criminal damage by fire (Arson) and remanded into custody.
  • A 17-year-old from Yarraville was arrested at Yarraville and interviewed for the offences of aggravated carjacking and two counts of criminal damage by fire (Arson) and released pending further enquiries.

In all six of the incident’s offenders have forced entry to each of the premises, before setting the properties alight.

Taskforce Lunar currently has 28 active arson investigations, which include tobacco stores, vehicles, gyms, restaurants and private addresses. 

Since October, the VIPER Taskforce has executed almost 70 warrants at tobacco stores across the state believed to be involved in the sale of illicit tobacco, resulting in the seizure of the following:

  • 108,722 e cigarettes (vapes) with a street valuation of $3.2M;
  • 3,205,298 cigarettes with duty excise evaded totalling $3.9M;
  • Over one of tonne loose-leaf tobacco with duty excise totalling evaded $1.9M;
  • At least 2 kg of cannabis;
  • At least 1kg of cocaine;
  • Almost $100K proceeds of crime;
  • Multiple weapons including ASP Batons and swords; and
  • Industrial tobacco manufacturing equipment.

A significant investigation into the series is underway with Taskforce Lunar drawing on a range of specialised resources from the Gang Crime Squad, Arson and Explosives Squad, Echo Taskforce, VIPER Taskforce, Criminal Proceeds Squad and Financial Crime Squad.

The taskforce is also working closely with regional police, as well as a range of external agencies such as the ABF, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), AFP and ATO.

At this time, Taskforce Lunar investigators believe the current situation is as a result of criminal syndicates in conflict due to competition 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.

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.

Investigators continue to appeal to anyone, especially store owners and staff, who has information about these incidents and who is responsible to come forward.

Anyone with information about these incidents or with further information about illicit tobacco is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report on the Crime Stoppers website.

Quotes attributable to Detective Inspector Graham Banks, Lunar Taskforce

“We know people are concerned given these stores are still being set alight, but what I would say is we do know the people who are involved, and we are actively targeting those syndicates.

“Today’s arrests are testament to that – they are a strong demonstration of state and Commonwealth agencies coming together to target the issue of illicit tobacco in every way possible.

“Those involved have a complete lack of regard for the harm they are inflicting on the community, and we think it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed or seriously hurt in these reckless incidents.

“While people’s lives remain at risk due to this heightened criminal activity, we will continue to target these organised crime syndicates and do everything we can to hold them accountable.”

Quotes attributable to AFP Detective Inspector Chris Salmon

“The AFP works closely with Victoria Police to disrupt organised crime, including outlaw motorcycle gangs to minimise the harm caused by their criminal ventures.

“This collaboration with our partner agencies ensures criminal gangs are held accountable for the illicit activities and crimes they commit.”

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