AFP seizes a record 32 tonnes of illicit drugs in 2020

Editor's note: state-by-state reviews of the AFP's 2020 outcomes are located at the bottom of this media release.

The Australian Federal Police has dismantled crime syndicates, unravelled paedophile networks and seized a record amount of illicit drugs in 2020.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the AFP continued to keep Australians safe this year by remaining a step ahead of offenders at home and abroad.

Across Australia and offshore, more than 32 tonnes of illicit drugs – the equivalent weight of 24 small cars - have been seized since January by the AFP with assistance from our Commonwealth and state law enforcement partners.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Investigations Ian McCartney said the pandemic saw organised crime groups take bigger risks in attempts to move more illicit goods in bulk as a result of global lockdowns, to make a profit by preying on the demand from Australian drug users.

“Some attempted to smuggle drugs in everyday shipments such as fruit or mustard bottles, hoping the items would be innocuous enough to thwart law enforcement detection. But the AFP and our partners have remained one step ahead and outsmarted these criminal groups, leading to the arrest of more than 200 people during drug investigations alone,” Deputy Commissioner McCartney said.

Since January, more than 1500 firearms or gun parts were recovered and millions of dollars in illicit cash and assets have been restrained by the AFP and our partners.

In the first nine months of the year, 156 people were charged with child-abuse related offences.

Deputy Commissioner McCartney said COVID-19 may have closed borders and restricted movement, but it did not limit our commitment or our capacity to stop offenders who were preying on our communities.

“Our members have shown their absolute professionalism and drive to make life as tough as possible for criminals,” DCI McCartney said. “We have also supported State authorities with managing and enforcing border restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.

The impacts of the global pandemic saw the AFP respond to new and emerging threats this year, including cybercrimes and sophisticated frauds against Commonwealth measures introduced to support Australians through the crisis.

Close to 50 people have been charged after cybercrime and fraud investigations, including individuals and alleged organized syndicates accused of fraudulently claiming JobSeeker Payments and making false claims for early access to superannuation.

In recent months the AFP and our partners also uncovered alleged multi-million dollar frauds against childcare subsidies and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“Our investigators are committed to identifying and prosecuting anyone who tries to exploit support measures for their own greed.

“This is not a victimless crime. It is taxpayer money which should have been used to help the most vulnerable members of our community,” Deputy Commissioner McCartney said.

As well as responding to emerging threats, the breadth of our work was evident through major investigations in organised crime, counter terrorism and child protection.

The prevalence of child exploitation remained a serious concern for law enforcement.

Child sex offenders took advantage of pandemic lockdowns to stalk more potential victims online and sites hosting abhorrent material were crashing during the height of the lockdowns because of increased traffic.

The AFP charged 156 people with 1460 child abuse-related offences and removed 106 children from harm here and overseas, between January and 30 September 2020.

“The AFP and our partners will never give up our fight to keep children safe and we are urging families to remain vigilant about their children’s online activities these school holidays. McCartney said.

“This year we have seen offenders pose as teenage social media celebrities to befriend – and then exploit – children through Facebook, or targeted children through chat functions on computer games,” Deputy Commissioner McCartney said.

As well as prosecuting offenders, the AFP - for the first time - restrained the Adelaide home of an alleged child sex offender.

The man is not accused of profiting from his crimes, but of allegedly using his property to commit serious offences.

The Adelaide residence was among more than $379 million in cash and assets restrained by the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) in the past 18 months under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The CACT will seek to have those ill-gotten assets forfeited to the Commonwealth, where they will be re-directed to help the community through crime prevention and other initiatives.

“We are committed to stopping criminals from funding future illegal ventures, or from enjoying lavish lifestyles at the expense of our communities,” Deputy Commissioner McCartney said.

Additional 2020 operational milestones include:

  • Charged a Melbourne man with a preparing for a foreign interference offence – the first time someone has been charged with the offence since the Commonwealth Parliament passed the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill in 2018. More details here.
  • A NSW man pleaded guilty this year to exit trafficking his Indian wife and their Australian-born daughter from Sydney to India. Upon sentencing, it will mark the first exit trafficking conviction in Australia. More details here.
  • Made one arrest, and issued a further two arrest warrants, following an intricate nine-year running foreign bribery investigation. More details and imagery here.
  • Arrested 15 men in three states and identified 46 Australian victims, as part of the Australian Federal Police-led investigation Operation Arkstone. The investigation has smashed an online network of alleged child sex offenders, who are accused of abusing and exploiting Australian children and recording the horrific crimes to share with others. More details and vision here.
  • Arrested three men and seized about 1.8 tonnes of cocaine - the largest recorded cocaine seizure in Australia – as part of Op Amiens. This saw Australian authorities intercept a drug-filled vessel of the NSW coast new Newcastle in August 2020. More details and vision here.

The end-of-year reviews for each AFP Command are available below:

Editor’s note: ** Offenders charged in connection to particular investigations may have been charged with other offences (for example, an offender charged as part of a fraud investigation may be charged with drug offences, not fraud, depending on the evidence)

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Read the AFP Annual Report 2019-20

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

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