Media Release: Four Australians charged in international illegal firearm sting

Release Date: Thursday, May 14 2015, 09:44 AM

This is a joint media release between the United States Homeland Security Investigations, Australian Federal Police, and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

A six-month joint operation has seen four people across Australia charged with attempting to purchase illegal firearms online.

The arrests were made as a result of a joint investigation conducted by the United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Australian Federal Police (AFP), and Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS). 

The investigation focused on the trade of illegal firearms via the ‘dark web’ by a US-based seller using an online alias to a worldwide client base, including Australian-based buyers.

In September 2014, the HSI investigation led to the identification of a 33-year-old man in Montana for the operation of the online alias account.

The operation began when ACBPS passed relevant information to HSI. In September 2014, HSI agents commenced a covert operation using the online alias account. This covert operation, which was conducted worldwide, identified suspected Australian-based users attempting to illegally purchase firearms from the undercover covert account. In November 2014, HSI and the AFP commenced a joint operation targeting these users.

Intelligence gained from the covert account led to the controlled delivery of six parcels to addresses in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

These controlled deliveries resulted in the execution of 15 search warrants in February and March. Four illegal firearms, ammunition, two clandestine laboratories, precursor chemicals, methamphetamines, pseudoephedrine, steroids, computer equipment and mobile telephones were seized. 

The operation, which was supported by the Queensland Police Service and other Australian state and territory law enforcement, has seen a total of 34 charges laid and four firearms seized.

On a global level, the operation led to 17 arrests across Europe and North America. These arrests resulted in the further seizures of firearms, ballistic armor, illicit drugs and USD$80,000 in bitcoins.
HSI acting special agent in charge of HSI Newark Kevin Kelly said the joint international law enforcement operation should serve as a warning to those who capitalize from the use of underground websites.

“HSI will maintain its unrelenting commitment to secure land borders as well as virtual borders from individuals seeking to prosper from the sale and/or purchase of firearms, drugs, and other illicit items with little regard for national security,” Agent Kelly said.

“Anyone who mistakenly thinks that they can get away with these types of crimes by hiding in the endless depths of the internet must know that HSI will seek them out and bring them to justice.”

AFP National Manager Serious and Organised Crime Ramzi Jabbour said the cooperation between domestic and international agencies was paramount to the success of this operation.

“Australia’s law enforcement agencies will continue to work with their international partners to ensure illegal firearms don’t reach our shores or our streets,” Assistant Commissioner Jabbour said.

“Disrupting the supply of illegal firearms remains a priority for the AFP, and the success of this operation is another example of the results that can be achieved through cross-agency collaboration.”

ACBPS National Director Investigations, Assistant Commissioner Steve Lancaster, said that this was the most successful darknet firearms investigation conducted in Australian history, and that the arrest of the US based supplier had removed a significant firearm threat to the Australian border.

“Despite this great result, Customs and Border Protection will continue to actively monitor and target illicit transnational online trade, and this operation highlights the fact that our efforts are supported by national and international law enforcement partners,” Assistant Commissioner Lancaster said.

“People using these sites should not be fooled by claims of online anonymity; each transaction builds up a global web of intelligence which international partners are using to target you.”

Images are available on request.

Media enquiries:
HSI Office of Public Affairs +1 (202)732 4213
AFP National Media (02) 6131 6333
Portfolio Media (02) 6264 2244