Multi-agency operation destroys global criminal syndicate

This is a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and NSW Crime Commission 

The New South Wales Joint Organised Crime Group has dismantled a global criminal syndicate, with eight people arrested in Sydney and one in Dubai for their involvement in an alleged conspiracy to illegally import drugs and tobacco into Australia.

The Joint Organised Crime Group (JOCG) targets high-level organised crime syndicates, and is made up of members of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), NSW Police Force (NSWPF), Australian Border Force (ABF), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and NSW Crime Commission (NSWCC).

Operation Astatine began in early 2016, focused on a NSW-based criminal network involved in drug trafficking and tobacco smuggling. It will be alleged in court that the syndicate members played varied and active roles in a conspiracy to import 200 kilograms of MDMA via sea cargo. It will also be alleged that the syndicate was responsible for smuggling 50 million cigarettes into Australia and actively engaged in money laundering activities here and abroad.

On Tuesday (8 August), the JOCG commenced a two-day operation targeting members allegedly connected to the syndicate. A total of 13 search warrants were executed across Sydney in relation to this investigation by members of the NSW JOCG, supported by specialist and tactical units within the AFP and NSWPF.

A controlled delivery, using a substituted inert substance, was carried out in Sydney on Tuesday and delivered to an address in Rosebery. A 52-year-old Queensland man was later arrested for allegedly transporting and accessing the substance.

During the search warrants this week, JOCG members also seized a quantity of cocaine - approximately 80 kilograms - at an address in Rosebery, and a total of $740,000 cash across four properties in Edmonson Park, St Peters, Hurstville and Arncliffe. A further $2 million was also seized by the JOCG during the course of the investigation.

Warrant activity was finalised this morning (10 August 2017), with a further search warrant executed on a premises at Kempsey on the NSW mid north coast.

The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI), the AFP on behalf of the JOCG, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection also conducted a parallel investigation - codenamed Operation Zeus - into an ABF officer, who has been charged for allegedly using his position to assist the syndicate avoid law enforcement detection, as well as a number of other related offences. A former Australian Customs and Border Protection Service officer has also been charged with similar offences regarding her alleged conduct during the period of this investigation.

The operation involved significant international assistance from the UAE Ministry of Justice, the Dubai Public Prosecution Office, Dubai Police, the UAE Federal Customs Authority, Dubai Customs and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as the domestic expertise of AUSTRAC, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) and the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD).

A 47-year-old man, from NSW who police will allege was the head of this syndicate, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates by the Dubai police anti-narcotics department, assisted by AFP and NSWPF detectives. His extradition will be sought in relation to drug importation offences.

Other people arrested include:

 A 54-year-old man from Rockdale, charged with offences relating to Drug Importation, Directing a Criminal Group, Conspiracy to Defraud, Money laundering and smuggling (Tobacco).

 A 42-year-old man from Rockdale charged with offences relating to Drug Importation, Directing a Criminal Group, Conspiracy to Defraud, Money laundering and smuggling (Tobacco).

 A 44-year-old man from Arncliffe charged with offences relating to Aid and Abet Drug Importation and Participating in a Criminal Group

 A 58-year-old man from Mascot charged with offences relating to Smuggling and Dealing with Proceeds of Crime.

 A 52-year old man from Benowa (Queensland) charged with offences relating to attempting to possess a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.

 A 51-year-old man from Edmonson Park charged with offences relating to Smuggling and Dealing with Proceeds of Crime.

 A 42-year-old man from Brighton-Le-Sands charged with offences including Smuggling, Bribery, Abuse of Public Office, Assisting a Criminal Group, Unauthorised Access (Computer) and Dealing in the Proceeds of Crime.

 A 41-year-old woman from Hurstville charged with offences including Conspiracy to bribe, Smuggling, Assisting a Criminal Group and Dealing in Proceeds of Crime.

AFP Coordinator Organised Crime and Cyber, Detective Superintendent Stephen Dametto, said the global reach of organised crime in Australia has become so complex that a high degree of sophistication and collaboration was required to combat these groups.

"This operation is a warning to organised crime targeting Australia that hiding on the other side of the world won’t save you. Once you are in our sights, we will focus our efforts on causing you and your predatory criminal activities as much damage as possible," Detective Superintendent Dametto said.

"To complement the great work done by the NSW JOCG, the AFP’s international network has enabled investigators to work closely with our partners in the United Arab Emirates (and other countries) to destroy this syndicate – without their help, we would not have been able to achieve the results we have to arrest the top players in this syndicate."

NSWPF Commander Organised Crime Squad, Detective Superintendent Scott Cook praised the work of investigators.

"Today’s operation brings to a conclusion 10 months of hard work by the members of the NSW JOCG and has resulted in an excellent outcome for the NSW community," Detective Superintendent Cook said.

"The transnational nature of organised crime in NSW is now highly-complex and difficult to combat, yet the resolve of your police is unwavering. We will continue to develop our partnerships, locally, nationally and internationally to ensure we have the reach necessary to crush organised crime activities impacting NSW."

ABF Superintendent Investigations NSW, Garry Low said the ABF has a zero tolerance to any alleged corrupt behaviour and has been working actively with its law enforcement partners to respond to all threats posed by organised crime.

"Our determination to continue to work together to protect the Australian community is undiminished by the actions of a few," said Superintendent Low.

"The ABF’s collaboration with our law enforcement partners and our multi-layered approach pre, at and post the border is having a significant impact on organised crime groups and this operation is a clear example of that."

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was also involved in this investigation, providing ongoing investigative support for international aspects of this syndicate. DEA Canberra Country Office Attaché, Kevin Merkel, said the level of cooperation involved in this operation has been both impressive and encouraging.

"The coordination it took to bring this case to resolution is a testament to the relationship DEA is honoured to have with our Australian law enforcement partners," Merkel said.

A 42-year-old Rockdale man, a 54-year-old Rockdale man, a 44-year-old Arncliffe man, a 51-year-old Edmonson Park man, a 42-year-old Brighton-Le-Sands man, a 52-year-old Benowa (Queensland) man, and a 41-year-old Hurstville woman are next due to appear in Central Local Court on 25 October 2017. A 59-year-old Mascot man is due to appear in Downing Centre Local Court 31 August 2017.

***Editor’s note: vision from the operation is available via Hightail:

https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/ltxIdwGVjD (footage of Brighton Le Sands arrest).

https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/4OMMn7sMAf/bmF0aGFucGF0dGVyc29uQHk3bWFpbC5jb20=

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