Christmas message from AFP Commissioner and overseas members keeping Australians safe

Editor’s note: Video message from the AFP Commissioner and overseas members is available for download.

The AFP has helped tackle serious crime overseas – such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, human trafficking, child exploitation and cyber offences – across 21 countries in the past financial year.

The AFP recorded 266 international disruptions in the northern and southern hemispheres, underscoring the AFP’s significant global reach, international relationships and capability.

More than 150 AFP members are posted in 33 countries, and despite the challenges of COVID-19, members maintained their presence.

Today, AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw and our members wish Australians a safe and Merry Christmas.

Most international assistance from the AFP in the past financial year related to the illicit drug trade in countries such as Mexico, China, Colombia and South East Asia.

Posts in Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Phnom-Penh, Singapore and The Hague recorded disruptions involving people smuggling, terrorism, child exploitation, and financial crimes. Results from the past two years show increasing use of operational disruption activities and strategies by the AFP.

Offshore, the AFP assists global law enforcement by:

  • Sharing intelligence, evidence and information from Australian law enforcement agencies;
  • Partnering to leverage capabilities;
  • Developing partners’ capabilities;
  • The provision of specialist capabilities for investigations; and
  • Training and development initiatives.

AFP Assistant Commissioner International Command Mike Pannett thanked overseas members for their dedication.

“Our members in overseas posts are helping to keep our region safe and by doing that we are helping to keep Australians, and Australian interests, safe,’’ Assistant Commissioner Pannett said.

“AFP international operations assist international policing and non-government bodies to disrupt crime and support regional security, safety and stability.

“It also reduces criminal and national security threats through collaborative law and order Police Development Missions, participation in internationally-mandated peace operations and provision of civil policing assistance in accordance with Australian foreign development policy priorities.”

Counter Terrorism and Special Investigations (CTSI), Command was established in 2020 and is led by Assistant Commissioner Scott Lee.

CTSI Command investigates a range of crime types including terrorist activity against Australians and Australian interests, both domestically and internationally.

CTSI Command aims to prevent, disrupt and investigate terrorist acts, terrorist groups, or those travelling overseas to participate in terrorist training or fighting in conflict zones.

In line with the AFP’s international engagement strategy, and in partnership with Jordon Community Peace Centre, the AFP built local awareness of radicalisation processes and ideologies and, in a culturally appropriate manner, fostered discussion about the marginalisation of social groups, which often underpins violent extremist viewpoints.

The community engagement programs have assisted the AFP to contribute to ongoing stability in Jordan – a key security partner in the Middle East. This compliments operational engagement with Jordanian and other international partners in the region to identify and disrupt terrorist threats that emanate from the region to Australia or South East Asian partners, as well as the collection of evidence regarding Australian Foreign Terrorist Fighters to prevent the threat they may pose to the Australian community.

In the past financial year, international partners, assisted by the AFP, seized 19.4 tonnes of drugs overseas.

About $7 billion in harm was avoided through these international drug seizures.

Assistant Commissioner Crime Command Nigel Ryan oversaw Operation Ironside, the biggest crime operation in the AFP’s 40-year history.

The global resolution of Operation Ironside, which ran in parallel to the FBI’s Operation Trojan Shield and was supported by EUROPOL’s Operation Task Force Greenlight, involved more than 9000 law enforcement officers and more than 800 arrests internationally.

The AFP continues to work with international partners to make the criminal environment hostile for transnational and serious organised criminals (TSOC).

This includes outlaw motorcycle gang members, who have moved offshore but continue to target Australia.

In collaboration with its partners, the AFP will target, disrupt and track these criminal groups and enterprises, and endeavour to remove the profit gained from the trafficking of illicit drugs and guns, used to bankroll further crime and wash their ill-gotten gains through economies throughout the world, including Australia.

Just under Operation Ironside alone, more than AUD52 million in suspected proceeds of crime has been seized, and around the globe, the AN0M platform helped law enforcement agencies seize more than USD48 million.

Taskforce Blaze is a partnership between the AFP, the China National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) and the Guangdong Narcotics Control Board (GD NCB).

The AFP has worked closely with Chinese law enforcement since 2015. During that time, 26 tonnes of drugs and precursors have been seized in Australia, more than $2 million has been restrained and 299 arrests have been made.

Cooperation has included sharing intelligence and evidence in joint investigations, including statements, forensic reports and photographs and samples.

In April 2021, a shipment of 254 bricks of heroin was seized in Shenzhen, China by GD NCB, NNCC and the AFP Guangzhou Post.

Working closely with the AFP in Guangzhou, Chinese law enforcement substituted the consignment, enabling the controlled delivery of three 17.5kg consignments to NSW, and 22.5 kg to Western Australia.

The AFP, along with state and territory law enforcement and ABF, arrested multiple individuals in relation to the consignments.

Online child abuse has escalated during COVID-19.

Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale has responsibility for child exploitation and human trafficking for the AFP.

In 2020–21, the AFP, working with international law enforcement partners, removed 144 international victims of child exploitation.

The AFP is active in combating human trafficking and slavery. It requires close international cooperation with governments around the world.

In March 2020, the AFP began investigating the alleged exit trafficking of a woman from Australia to India through the use of deception.

It is alleged a Darwin man, 29, was physically abusive to his 27-year-old wife, and used coercion and threats to garnish her wages, access bank accounts and gain money from her family.

In July 2020, the AFP, with the assistance of the Department of Home Affairs, assisted the victim to return to Australia.

She continues to receive support from the AFP and Red Cross’s support for trafficked people program. The case highlights the strong partnerships the AFP has across the sector, including with NGOs, and the fact that victim welfare remained a priority despite the additional challenges faced during the global pandemic.

To date, information has been provided to the AFP by Indian law enforcement bodies through inquiries with the AFP post in New Delhi. A Mutual Assistance Request is being prepared to further inquiries in India. This includes confirming that the alleged offender was the subject of current criminal proceedings in India.

The matter is currently before the Darwin Local Court for allegedly exit trafficking the victim in 2019, and stealing more than $60,000 from her and other relatives.

Cybercrime is the break-and-enter of the 21st Century. Offenders can be on the other side of the world and steal personal information and reach into Australians’ bank accounts.

Cyber Command, led by Assistant Commissioner Justine Gough, is working with international partners to prevent Australians losing their identity and savings through cybercrime and related online frauds.

Operation Ruthven investigated large-scale phishing fraud.

In November 2018, the AFP commenced a cybercrime investigation into one of the world’s largest phishing services, Universal Administrator (uAdmin), which created replica pages to mirror legitimate financial institutions’ web pages to unlawfully capture victims’ private banking credentials.

The effects of uAdmin activities were far-reaching and it is estimated uAdmin was responsible for 50 per cent of all SMS phishing activity targeting Australian banks and financial institutions.

In 2019 alone, uAdmin was responsible for more than $3 million in fraudulent transactions. Globally, it is estimated that the damage caused by uAdmin affected 11 countries and caused the loss of tens of millions of dollars worldwide.

Cryptocurrency tracing allowed the AFP to identify more than $1 million being traded over a 2-year period as payment to an entity called Kaktys. Kaktys is alleged to be the author and distributor of uAdmin, and was subsequently identified as a 39-year-old Ukrainian citizen.

The AFP’s International Network was critical to the success of this operation. The AFP cyber liaison officer based at EUROPOL, The Hague, facilitated communication between AFP teams in Sydney and Ukrainian authorities, enabling exchange of information.

This exchange of information with Ukrainian authorities led to an independent investigation into the Ukraine-based actor. The combined efforts of the AFP, along with the FBI, EUROPOL and Eurojust, in providing intelligence, operational and prosecutions support ensured the success of the operation. In February 2021, Ukrainian authorities arrested the person behind Kaktys.

As a result of this successful operation, one of the world’s largest phishing services is now shut down and out of operation.

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Read the AFP Annual Report 2020-21

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation

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