Media Release: Three charged and millions of assets seized in joint agency investigation

Release Date: Wednesday, August 05 2015, 07:04 PM

Three men have been charged today for their alleged involvement in a large scale fraud scheme estimated to have taken millions from individuals and government agencies.

Operation Aristotle, a joint investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), in cooperation with Australia Post, has also resulted in the restraint of $8.5 million worth of assets alleged to have been derived from the proceeds of crime, including bank accounts, a 2014 Ferrari and six properties in the Melbourne suburbs of Balwyn, Lalor, Epping, Preston and Tarneit.

Police have also seized a number of luxury items, including a 2015 Range Rover, multiple expensive watches and jewellery, as well as cash totalling more than $180,000.

The operation began after information was received by the AFP regarding the validity of National Police Check (NPC) certificates. Enquiries established the NPC certificates were falsified and identified a 34-year-old Balwyn man, and a 37-year-old Epping man, both co-directors of a registered Melbourne training provider.

AFP and ABF officers have today, with members from ASQA, executed thirty search warrants across the Melbourne suburbs of Balwyn, Epping, Reservoir, Footscray, Tarneit, Bentleigh East, Hoppers Crossing, Airport West, Thomastown, Whittlesthea, and the city.

This resulted in the arrest of the two co-directors, along with a 42-year-old Tarneit man, who is the director of a second registered Melbourne training provider.

It will be alleged in court that all three men have been falsely enrolling international and domestic students in the training providers, creating fraudulent documents for enrolled students, then failing to provide appropriate education.

Police will allege instead, international students were working as contractors for labour-hire businesses owned by the directors of the training providers, while continuing to pay high tuition fees to maintain their enrolment status and student visas.

It is estimated since their establishment, the two providers have charged over $9 million in fees from international students as well as fraudulently claiming approximately $2 million in government funding.

AFP Manager Crime Operations, Paul Osborne, said the success of this operation highlights the need for agencies to continue to work together to stop those individuals who believe they are above the law.

“In this case, the men involved have created an elaborate plan and defrauded millions of dollars in government funding and from students in vulnerable circumstances,” Commander Osborne said.

“I would like to stress that the AFP would not have been able to successfully disrupt this scheme without the cooperation from Australia Post throughout this year-long investigation.”

“Our ability to detect and disrupt these crimes was assisted greatly by the continued cooperation between the AFP and our partner agencies. It should serve as a warning to anyone who is choosing to involve themselves in this kind of behaviour.”

ABF Commander Investigations Division, David Nockels said the ABF will continue to cooperate with its counterpart agencies on significant operations like this.

“Evidence gathered today will be analysed by our investigators in cooperation with our AFP colleagues to determine whether any charges will also be brought against these three men in relation to the illegal referral and employment of individuals in breach of their visa conditions.”

ASQA Chief Commissioner Chris Robinson said the authority cooperated with the AFP and State police forces when suspected criminal activity was detected in the training market.

“In this case ASQA will be considering additional regulatory action which flowed from and complemented the AFP investigation,” Mr Robinson said.

Charges:

The 34-year-old Balwyn man and the 37-year-old Epping man were charged with:

  • Conspire to dishonestly obtain a gain from the Commonwealth of Australia, namely the Australian Skills Quality Authority, contrary to subsection 135.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Conspire to dishonestly influence an officer of the Australian Skills Quality Authority in the exercise of their official duties, contrary to subsection 135.4(7) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Provide false documents (student records) to dishonestly induce a person, namely an officer of the Australian Skills Quality Authority, in their capacity as a public official to obtain a gain, contrary to subsection 145.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Dishonestly falsifying a document (Police Check Certificate) made by a Commonwealth entity with the intention of obtaining a gain, contrary to subsection 145.4 (1) of the Criminal code (Cth).
  • Dealing with proceeds of crime worth more than $100,000, contrary to Section of 400.9 (1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

The 42-year-old Tarneit man:

  • Conspire to dishonestly obtain a gain from the Commonwealth of Australia, namely the Australian Skills Quality Authority, contrary to subsection 135.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Conspire to dishonestly influence an officer of the Australian Skills Quality Authority in the exercise of their official duties, contrary to subsection 135.4(7) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Two counts of provide false documents (student records) to dishonestly induce a person, namely an officer of the Australian Skills Quality Authority in their capacity as a public official to obtain a gain, contrary to subsection 145.2(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Dealing with proceeds of crime worth more than $100,000, contrary to Section of 400.9 (1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

The 42-year-old Tarneit man and the 37-year-old Epping man have been bailed to appear before Court at a later date. The 34-year-old Balwyn man is expected to appear before the Melbourne Magistrates Court tomorrow.

Enquiries are continuing and further charges have not been ruled out.

Media enquiries:
AFP Media: (02) 6131 6333
Australian Border Force Media: (02) 6264 2244
Australian Skills Quality Authority Media: (07) 3223 1040