Illicit cash and luxury cars forfeited after AFP-led taskforce investigations

Illicit cash and luxury cars forfeited after AFP-led taskforce investigations.

Editor's note: Footage and images available

The Australian Federal Police-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) has secured the forfeiture of $2,745,000 in illicit cash and three luxury cars after three separate investigations in Western Australia.

The Supreme Court of WA has ordered the cash and assets be forfeited to the Commonwealth in separate orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

More than $1.2 million in an Australian bank account, identified during an investigation into suspected money laundering and tax fraud involving a WA man, is the most recent forfeiture (23 December 2021).

In 2020, the CACT commenced an investigation after receiving financial intelligence from AUSTRAC that identified suspicious account activity and large funds transfers between bank accounts in WA and Thailand.

Three properties and funds in several bank accounts in Australia linked to the WA man have been restrained after successful court applications.

Funds in Thai bank accounts, including some transferred to an alleged business associate of the man, were restrained with the assistance of the Royal Thai Police Crime Suppression Division (CSD) under Taskforce Storm joint-agency cooperation arrangements.

The $1.2 million was in an Australian bank account in the name of an alleged associate of the WA man. There was no opposition to the AFP's application for the funds to be forfeited.

Investigations remain ongoing into the source of other funds and the WA man's business activities. No criminal charges have currently been laid in relation to this matter.

AFP National Manager Criminal Assets Confiscation Stefan Jerga said the case demonstrates the reach of the AFP and the strength of its international partnerships.

"This sends a clear warning that moving funds offshore does not put you beyond the reach of the AFP. We are grateful to the Royal Thai Police for their diligent and prompt assistance in this matter," he said.

There were also no challenges to CACT applications to have $545,000, seized from a traveller at Perth airport in 2019, forfeited to the Commonwealth.

AFP officers found bundles of Australian currency hidden in two suitcases after an AFP currency detection dog patrolling in the domestic terminal became interested in the luggage a man had on a table.

Police allege the $545,000 was suspected to be the proceeds of crime the man had collected in Perth and was taking to the eastern states.

The man, now aged 42, has been charged by the AFP with dealing in the suspected proceeds of crime in relation to the seized cash. The matter is still progressing through the courts in Victoria.

The Supreme Court of WA made the forfeiture orders on 22 October 2021.

Cash and cars seized in WA during a joint drug trafficking and money laundering investigation involving AFP, Australian Border Force and AUSTRAC in November 2020 have also been forfeited to the Commonwealth.

More than $1 million cash, a white 2010 Bentley coupe and two 2016 Mercedes Benz sedans were forfeited under the WA Supreme Court decision on 28 October 2021.

Two men, then aged 37 and 32, were charged as part of the criminal investigation.

The younger man was sentenced to nine months' jail in September 2021 after he pleaded guilty to two criminal offences. The other man is expected to face a sentencing hearing next month (February 2022).

The $2,745,000 illicit cash and the proceeds of the sale from the cars (valued by the courts at $283,600) will be deposited into the Confiscated Assets Account, from which funds are redistributed by Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews to support crime prevention, law enforcement and related community initiatives.

AFP Commander Western Command John Tanti said removing the financial incentives from crime and preventing offenders from funding future illegal activities was a key strategy used by the AFP and its partners to cause maximum damage to organised crime.

"The joint operation with the Royal Thai Police demonstrates that the AFP and our partners work closely to dismantle transnational criminals through arrest and forfeiture action," he said. "The more cash and assets we seize, the more pressure we place on criminal syndicates so they cannot pay their debts, they cannot fund future criminal ventures and they cannot enjoy lavish lifestyles.

"The matters should be a warning to people who live a lifestyle they cannot lawfully justify - the AFP and our partners will catch up with you and end the party.

"Unexplained sources of wealth are often a sign of underlying criminal activity and the AFP is committed to working with its partners to ensure offenders aren't able to profit from exploiting the wider community."

AUSTRAC National Manager Intelligence Operations, Michael Tink said AUSTRAC's financial intelligence analysis capabilities play a critical role in identifying and disrupting unexplained criminal wealth networks.

"Our specialist financial intelligence analysts use cutting-edge tools, data and tradecraft to identify unexplained wealth and ensure that criminals do not profit from their crimes."

Mr Jerga said that in the 2020/21 financial year, the CACT successfully confiscated almost $54 million in assets nationally.

"It is rewarding to know that once these illicit profits are confiscated, they are redirected to fund projects which enhance the safety and security of communities around Australia," Mr Jerga said.

The CACT brings together the resources and expertise of the AFP, Australian Taxation Office, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and Australian Border Force. Together, these agencies trace, restrain and ultimately confiscate criminal assets.

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