National Anti-Gangs Squad seizes more firearms, cash and drugs from OMCGs

Firearms seized in Queensland

Editor's Note: Vision and footage of seized firearms is available for download.

The Australian Federal Police-led National Anti-Gangs Squad (NAGS) seized more illicit drugs, more cash and almost twice as many firearms from outlaw motorcycle gangs in 2020-2021 than in the previous financial year.

More than $3.6 million of suspected proceeds of crime was seized, up from $1.56 million in 2019-2020, while the number of charges laid against alleged gang members and associates jumped by 35 per cent to 231 charges.

Ninety-nine firearms were taken out of the hands of alleged gang members and associates by NAGS investigators – almost double the 51 weapons seized in 2019-2020.

The deadly haul included easily concealable loaded handguns and military-grade automatic firearms capable of firing several rounds a second. Many of the weapons were found loaded and easily accessible to offenders, increasing the dangers to police and the public.

Sixteen firearms – including a fully automatic Chinese-copy of an AK-47 rifle and a SPAS 12 Gauge shotgun – as well as power gel explosives were found at one Perth property during Operation Ironside.

WA NAGS, with the assistance of an AFP bomb appraisal officer and AFP firearms and explosives detection dog, found the weapons buried in a storage container. Police suspect they were stockpiled for the Comanchero OMCG.

An investigation in New South Wales into the manufacture and supply of prohibited firearms resulted in officers seizing two 3D-printed submachine guns and three other firearms.

A further 34 firearms and parts have been seized during NAGS-led investigations between July and October (2021).

Firearms seizures last month (November 2021) included loaded guns found with illicit drugs and cash in properties or cars linked to several different OMCGs.

In Queensland, three men with links to the Hells Angels OMCG were charged after police seized seven firearms – including handguns and assault rifles.

In Victoria last month (November), NAGS investigators and other AFP specialists worked with Victoria Police to search the rural home of a Mongols OMCG member. A loaded 0.45 Sig Sauer handgun, a homemade handgun and a silencer were among the weapons seized.

AFP NAGS Detective Superintendent Jason McArthur said about 90 per cent of the threats to life identified during Operation Ironside were directly related to outlaw motorcycle gangs – as offenders and in some circumstances, victims of rival gangs and even their own.

"The AFP and our state and territory police partners, intercepted and disrupted plots to shoot, bash or kidnap both rivals and innocent people," he said.

"The number of firearms seized by NAGS officers around the country last financial year and so far this year – almost two a week on average – highlights the access outlaw motorcycle gangs have to weapons that are used to follow through with their violent plans.

"Even when criminals are trying to target each other, they put innocent bystanders at risk and National Anti-Gangs Squad teams are pleased to take these firearms away from violent offenders. We will do whatever we can to protect Australians."

Detective Superintendent McArthur said the portrayal of outlaw motorcycle gangs as just groups of guys who like riding motorcycles was false.

"Intercepted communications from the AN0M encrypted communication platform has provided further evidence that OMCGs are organised crime networks that exist to make money - generally through drug activities, and sometimes through intimidation and acts of violence.

"Of the 311 people arrested by the AFP and its state and territory partners during Operation Ironside, more than 100 are members or known associates of OMCGs."

Detective Superintendent McArthur said Operation Ironside had provided great insight into the international reach of Australian-based gangs and their collaboration with known offenders residing offshore.

"The international collaboration between these transnational criminal syndicates causes a domino effect of damage to Australian communities."

A recent study by the Australian Institute of Criminology shows OMCGs are increasingly recruiting violent, criminally-inclined men to their ranks.

"The study, which involved the Queensland Police Service interviewing former gang members, also highlighted that while members were once loyal to a club for life, it was becoming more common for them to switch clubs to pursue their self-interests or a profit," Detective Superintendent McArthur said.

"The men involved in these gangs are not loyal to each other, they will hurt each other or rip each other off to make money and they certainly give no thought to the innocent people they put at risk through their violent crimes.

"Anyone who becomes involved with an OMCG puts not only themselves, but the lives of their families at risk."

Queensland Police figures show more than one-third of OMCG members in Queensland have been issued with domestic violence orders. QPS statistics also reveal that women in relationships with OMCG members are six times more likely to become a victim of domestic and family violence.

Police predict OMCGs will try to take advantage of easing COVID border restrictions to ramp up illicit imports.

"We want to put them on notice that we are ready and we are coming for them," Detective Superintendent McArthur said.

The National Anti-Gangs Squad (NAGS) was established in 2014 as a multi-agency law enforcement taskforce targeting organised criminal syndicates, including those involving members of outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCG). NAGS comprises of members from the AFP and State Police forces, as well as members from the Australian Taxation Office.

2021 Case Studies

Western Australia:

The 16 weapons were found in June 2021 buried at a property in Perth's southern suburbs. Forensic testing has not yet returned any results. NAGS are awaiting the results from ballistics testing to see if the weapons have been used in any shootings.

New South Wales:

February 2021: A Rebels OMCG associate, now aged 63, was charged after police seized a rifle, handgun, 10 replica pistols and an M4 replica rifle from a Coffs Harbour property. He has since been convicted of 13 offences relating to possession of unauthorised firearms and weapons. AFP Detective Superintendent Jason McArthur said anyone who had one of these replica weapons pointed at them would not think it was a fake.

June 2021: NSW NAGS seized five firearms, including a semi-automatic assault rifle and two 3D-printed submachine guns, during an investigation into the illegal manufacture and supply of firearms. Police will allege a 38-year-old man was distributing and selling firearms to criminals, including people linked to the Comanchero OMCG. The 3D printed weapons were branded 'FGC' – F* Gun Control.

Victoria:

Victoria NAGS works closely with the Victoria Police Echo Taskforce, providing investigative, intelligence and specialist capability support for the mutual fight against OMCG-linked organised crime.

April 2021: A loaded sawn-off pump action shotgun, a loaded revolver, a loaded semi-automatic pistol and ammunition were allegedly found in a car owned by a Comanchero OMCG associate. AFP NAGS and Echo Taskforce investigators searched the man's home and car as a result of intelligence from Operation Ironside. The man, then aged 20, was charged with several offences including trafficking firearms, possessing two unregistered handguns and possessing an unregistered long-arm.

November 2021: Two loaded guns were found in a purpose-built hidden compartment in a Toyota Corolla by NAGS investigators, AFP Geomatics specialists and Echo Taskforce officers during investigations that were initiated as a result of Ironside intelligence. Police seized the car for a detailed search after finding a 1kg block of cocaine and $62,000 cash hidden under the seats. The elaborate compartment was hidden behind the car's air conditioning control unit. Inside the compartment police found a loaded 0.32 Smith and Wesson revolver, a loaded 9mm Colt semi-auto pistol, another $170,000 cash and about 80g of cocaine. AFP Forensic Firearms Intelligence and Victoria Police specialists will test the seized firearms. A further $373,800 cash was found in an apartment where the Corolla was parked. A 38-year-old man has been charged over the weapons, drugs and cash haul.

November 2021: NAGS investigators and other AFP specialists worked with Victoria Police to search the property of a Mongols OMCG member. A loaded 0.45 Sig Sauer handgun, a homemade handgun and a silencer were among the weapons seized.

November 2021: A NAGS investigator found a loaded homemade sub-machine gun hidden underneath an oven at a Clarinda home. The property was one of several searched as part of a long-running investigation by the AFP and Victoria Police into an organised crime syndicate.

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