AFP highlights regional achievements for 2022

It has been a busy year for the AFP combatting crime across the country. AFP regional commands highlight successes across crime priorities including cyber, fraud, child protection, transnational serious organised crime, drugs, and terrorism. 

AFP 2022 National Case Studies:

Northern Command - Queensland:

Investigators from the AFP’s Northern Command, which covers Queensland, continued striking against organised crime in 2022.

AFP officers charged two Queensland men in October for their alleged involvement in a money laundering syndicate responsible for laundering $4.5 million dollars in cash since February 2021.

Investigators executed search warrants at addresses in Helensvale, Graceville, Bardon and Brisbane City as part of the investigation, which was called Operation Armarta.

Officers seized $70,000 cash from two safes that were hidden under stairs and a cash counter at a Bardon premises while $160,000 cash was seized from a safe at a Gold Coast home.

The AFP alleged a Gold Coast man, 67, used personal information from clients to his consultancy business to open fraudulent bank accounts. The accounts were opened in the name of some of his clients believed to be without their knowledge.

A Brisbane man, 53, allegedly supplied millions of dollars of funds, which is the suspected proceeds of crime, to be deposited into the accounts in an effort to avoid detection by authorities.

Both men were charged with conspiring to deal in the proceeds of general crime and at the time of dealing the value of the money or property was $1,000,000 or more, contrary to section 400.3(1B) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) and section 11.5 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for the offence is 25 years' imprisonment.

The Gold Coast man was also charged with 29 counts of conducting transactions so as to avoid reporting requirements relating the threshold transactions contrary to section 141(1) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (Cth). The maximum penalty for the offence is five years’ imprisonment.

AFP Detective Superintendent Helen Schneider said officers from Northern Command had been instrumental in protecting Queenslanders from the threats of organised crime in 2022.

“Operation Armarta highlighted the AFP’s commitment to dismantling money laundering enterprises that are the backbone of organised crime,” Detective Superintendent Schneider said.

“If you are involved in this aspect of organised crime in Queensland, we will come after you, your associates and partners, your money and your ill-gotten trappings of wealth.”

Eastern Command - New South Wales:

AFP Eastern Command officers undertook a complex investigation across three states – codenamed Operation Merredin – which exposed the drug trafficking and manufacturing activities of a criminal network allegedly operating under direction from a Colombian organised crime syndicate.

The AFP dismantled the operations of the criminal network, including a purpose-built cocaine laboratory in rural Queensland. Nine people were arrested across Queensland, the Northern Territory and New South Wales in July 2022, with the assistance of state and territory police.

AFP Commander Investigations Kate Ferry said the level of complexity in our investigations in Eastern Command did not lessen during 2022.

“Our fundamental duty is to protect the community. Eastern Command officers achieved this in 2022 through every human trafficking disruption, child sex offender prosecution, cyber-enabled arrest, terrorism-related charge and illicit drug seizure,” Cmdr. Ferry said.

“Operation Merredin was a significant drug investigation in 2022 that showed how offshore organised criminals are behind the tide of illicit drugs crashing into our communities – pulling the strings on Australian-based controllers, manufacturers and distributers.

“We have taken significant steps with our partners in Australia and internationally to create a hostile environment for organised criminals to operate and will continue to do so in 2023. Our commitment for the year ahead will not waiver.”

Southern Command - Victoria and Tasmania:

AFP Southern Command officers shut down the alleged criminal operations of an accused Victorian crime boss and gang leader, allegedly caught attempting to conduct illicit business from behind bars.

The AFP charged the 33-year-old man with directing activities of a criminal organisation offences in April, 2022 under Operation Fuji.

The AFP alleges the inmate was pretending to speak to his legal team over a prison phone while actually ordering members of a Melbourne-based criminal syndicate to carry out major drug importations into Australia. It is also alleged the man planned and ordered threats to life and discussed plots to escape prison, unaware the AFP was monitoring his conversations.

The man was charged by AFP officers at Barwon Prison in Victoria.

Operation Fuji also led AFP investigators to arrest a 28-year-old Melbourne woman, the partner of the man and an alleged criminal syndicate member, who allegedly attempted to facilitate the illicit drug import of 56 kilograms of methamphetamine and 13 kilograms of heroin.

The man and woman have both since pleaded guilty to the drug import offences and are awaiting sentencing.

The AFP has confiscated more than $20 million dollars in assets including houses, artwork and luxury vehicles that have been seized to date under Operation Fuji.

AFP Southern Command Commander Investigations Raegan Stewart said the AFP had maintained a high operational tempo across Victoria and Tasmania in 2022, with Operation Fuji one of the most significant investigations of the year.

“Operation Fuji is another example of the AFP’s commitment to stamping out organised crime and protecting the Australian community,” Commander Stewart said.

“This investigation shows the AFP will not only continue target and identify criminal syndicates but we will also pinpoint those leading them and bring them to justice – no matter where they are.” 

Central Command - South Australia and Northern Territory:

AFP Investigators in AFP’s Central Command, which covers South Australia and the Northern Territory, remain focused on targeting and disrupting a range of crime.

Operation Lithgow

An AFP-led investigation in March, 2022 targeting transnational organised crime led to the seizure of 416kg of cocaine in South Australia – the largest haul of drugs confiscated in the State.

The multi-jurisdictional operation, involving the AFP, Australian Border Force (ABF), South Australia Police (SAPOL), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Department of Home Affairs was launched after information was received about a commercial vessel being used to traffic illicit drugs into Australia.

Police alleged four men, who were crew members of the international bulk shipping carrier, were involved in the importation and offloading of drugs overboard once in South Australian waters. The consignment was found in March, 2022 off the coast of the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

The investigation resulted in the arrest of four Filipino foreign nationals, aged between 29 and 44.  The men were charged with importation of a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs, namely cocaine, contrary to section 307.(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth), which has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey said it was likely the illicit drugs would have been distributed across Australia by criminals associated with serious organised crime.

“While the alleged cocaine importation is the largest ever detected by law enforcement in South Australia, it is most certain the drugs would have been trafficked to other Australian states,’’ Assistant Commissioner Harvey said.

The profits from this venture – if it was successful – would have put $166.4 million into the pockets of the criminals involved in its distribution,” he said.

“The AFP relentlessly disrupts and takes action against drug traffickers including international drug syndicates because illicit drugs make our roads and communities less safe.

 “We also know drug trafficking can lead to drug wars in our streets, and often law-abiding citizens can be the collateral damage to that violence. We will stay one step ahead,” Assistant Commissioner Harvey said.

Assistant Commissioner Harvey highlighted the significance of high level of collaboration between law enforcement agencies.

“We will continue to work with our state and Commonwealth law enforcement partners who provide invaluable assistance.

“We will continue to build evidence against those who have committed serious crimes and continue to focus on smashing criminal networks and those who target individuals and communities,” he said.

Operation Tatsuta

One of the most significant and complex child exploitation matters in South Australia during 2022 resulted in an Adelaide man being sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for a range of child abuse offences, and the rescue of 15 young victims in the Philippines.

The man, 68, who paid for children in the Philippines to be sexually abused while he watched on webcam, pleaded guilty in February 2021 to 50 offences, which included charges relating to viewing, remotely instructing and recording the sexual abuse of children on 55 occasions between March 2018 and January 2020.  Police believe the youngest child was aged just three when they were first abused.

The investigation into the man’s activities, started in early 2020 after Australian Border Force officers examined his belongings when he returned from an overseas trip. They found child abuse material on his phone and iPad.

The man was charged over the illegal content and the matter was referred to the South Australia Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (SA JACET) – the specialist taskforce comprising AFP and SA Police officers who investigate child exploitation offences in South Australia.

SA JACET Investigators conducted a digital forensic examination of the man’s data storage devices and uncovered horrific footage of sexual acts involving children. Police found more than 55,000 images and videos of child abuse material on his devices. SA JACET worked with the AFP’s International Command in the Philippines, who engaged Philippine authorities. AFP shared intelligence about the identities of the people suspected of being involved in the abuse to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre (PICACC), of which the AFP is a partner agency.

Philippine authorities arrested five locals, alleged to be the facilitators, aged between 18 and 29 at the time. Some are mothers of the victims. One of the woman charged was then an 18-year-old who was allegedly offering three girls online to offenders – her nine-year-old niece, 12-year-old cousin and 18-year-old best friend. The accused women remain before the courts in the Philippines.

The investigation included multi-agency involvement by the Australian Federal Police, South Australia Police (SAPol), Australian Border Force (ABF), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

The case is also the first time that the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) sought to confiscate the home of a person charged with child sex offences pursuant to Commonwealth proceeds of crime and confiscation laws. 

The man was not accused of profiting from his crimes, but of allegedly using his property as an instrument of crime to commit serious offences. In November 2020 and May 2021, the AFP sought, and obtained, Supreme Court of South Australia restraining orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in relation to the man’s unencumbered property, which was where many of his internet-based offences were alleged to have taken place.

AFP Acting Sergeant Gordon Brown said this case demonstrates the important role that law enforcement agencies have in working together and sharing intelligence and resources to bring justice to anyone who preys on children.

“This investigation and sentencing sends a powerful reminder about the AFP’s significant work with partners around the globe to share intelligence and resources necessary to target this despicable behaviour, no matter where in the world they are hiding,” Acting Sergeant Brown said.

"Our common goal is to protect children, wherever they live, and to ensure anyone who tries to harm them is identified and brought before the courts.

“This is not a victimless crime. Children are not commodities to be used for the abhorrent gratification of sexual predators,” he said.

Western Command – Western Australia

Intelligence gathered during Operation Ironside is continuing to help the AFP protect the West Australian community.

AFP officers seized multiple firearms, ammunition and a smoke grenade from a home in Perth’s northern suburbs last month (November).

Ten unregistered weapons, including two SKS semi-automatic assault rifles capable of firing 40 rounds per minute and three bolt action rifles were among the arsenal found hidden inside modified barrels in an underground cellar.

It will be alleged that AFP officers found the illicit firearms as a result of inquiries linked to Operation Ironside-West-Maidos.

Operation Ironside-West-Maidos, which targeted an alleged Perth-based drug trafficking and money laundering syndicate, had already led to the AFP charging six men, and seizing a handgun and close to $8 million in suspected proceeds of crime.

More than $6 million of that money has already been forfeited to the Commonwealth for redistribution to community initiatives after the AFP secured the assets confiscation case in the Supreme Court.

The investigation into the weapons cache is ongoing, and includes forensic and ballistic testing for comparison purposes to ascertain if any of the seized firearms have been used in prior criminal activity.

AFP Western Command Acting Commander Peter Chwal said the AFP works closely with law enforcement agencies across Australia and around the world to help keep West Australians safe.

“The success of Operation Ironside-West-Maidos' crackdown on drug trafficking and money laundering syndicates is just one example of how the AFP keeps the WA community safe,” Acting Commander Chwal said.

“The AFP and its partners are committed to protecting the community from individuals and groups that seek to cause harm.”

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