UPDATE: Seventh arrest made in alleged Albanian organised crime syndicate

Editor’s note: Vision + images available via Hightail

The AFP has arrested a seventh alleged member of an Albanian organised crime syndicate, accused of operating cannabis grow houses across Melbourne.

The man, 31, was arrested by AFP officers they executed a search warrant at a Noble Park property on Friday (28 October, 2022). A number of items were seized from the property, including electronic devices and a mobile phone.

The man has been charged with cannabis cultivation offences and was expected to face the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday. 

AFP detectives will allege in court the Noble Park man acted under the direction of the alleged criminal syndicate’s leader and operated four cannabis crop houses in Melbourne.

The arrest comes after six people, including a real estate agent, were previously charged as part of the AFP-led investigation into an Albanian organised crime syndicate allegedly operating cannabis grow houses in Melbourne rental properties.   

AFP Sergeant Glenn Tankard said the arrest of the 31-year-old was another reminder of the AFP’s ability to identify and dismantle organised criminal syndicates.

“This investigation and the latest arrest should serve as a clear example that the AFP is committed to wiping out organised crime. The AFP, together with our law enforcement partners will continue to target, identify and disrupt organised criminal syndicates.

“We allege the person arrested in Noble Park played a significant role in the Albanian criminal syndicate operating a network of illicit cannabis grow houses across Melbourne,” Sergeant Tankard said. 

The AFP launched its investigation into the organised crime syndicate in April 2021 and identified an Aspendale Gardens man, 36, the alleged leader of the syndicate from information obtained during Operation Ironside.

Police executed a warrant at the man’s Aspendale Gardens home in June last year (7 June, 2021) as part of the first phase of Operation Ironside, where they allegedly seized an ANOM device, along with $270,000 and five designer watches allegedly concealed in a roof cavity.

The AFP-led investigation– codenamed Operation Ironside South-Valhalla – identified and dismantled two alleged cannabis grow houses located in Keysborough connected to the syndicate, with assistance from Victoria Police.

Eighty-one cannabis plants, weighing more than 96kg were seized from the two properties in June, 2021.  A 40-year-old Keysborough man and a 24-year-old Noble Park man, who are alleged syndicate members, were arrested in connection to the grow houses.

On 2 August 2022, the Aspendale Gardens man, a 46-year-old Burwood East man and a 23-year-old Dandenong woman were arrested.

It will be alleged the Aspendale Gardens man was the head of the syndicate, who coordinated the establishment of grow houses and the production of cannabis at those premises. Information obtained from Operation Ironside identified the man to be allegedly linked to known international Albanian organised crime identities.

Further search warrants were executed on two additional alleged grow houses in the suburbs of Burwood East and Keysborough, where detectives seized 44.6kg of cannabis, including 20 plants and 11 seedlings.

On Thursday 29 September, 2022, investigators arrested a 59-year-old Malvern East man, accused of acting as a key facilitator for the criminal syndicate.

It is alleged the 59-year-old man is a Melbourne real estate agent who acted for the criminal syndicate by identifying at least two rental properties owned by overseas investors, knowing they would not conduct inspections in person. It is suspected at least four cannabis grow houses were coordinated by the real estate agent.

That information was shared with the syndicate, which rented the properties and set up cannabis grow houses inside, sometimes significantly damaging the properties in the process.

The 59-year-old Malvern East man was charged and granted police bail on Friday 30 September, 2022).

Operation Ironside South-Valhalla 2022 charges:

31-year-old Noble Park man:

  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

36-year-old Aspendale Gardens man:

  • Directing activities of a criminal organisation, contrary to section 390.6 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth)
  • Cultivating a marketable quantity of controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.5 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

46-year-old Burwood East man:

  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

23-year-old Dandenong woman:

  • Cultivating marketable quantities of controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.5 of Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The trio faced the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 3 August, 2022 and were released on bail to reappear again on 25 November, 2022.

59-year-old Malvern East man:

  • Supporting a criminal organisation contrary to section 390.4(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

Operation Ironside South-Valhalla 2021 charges:

40-year-old Keysborough man:

  • Deal in property, namely currency valued at greater than $100,000, and believed it to be proceeds of general crime, contrary to section 400.4(1A) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
  • Dealing with property, namely currency valued less than $100,000, reasonably suspected of being proceeds of indictable crime, contrary to section 400.9(1A) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
  • Failed to comply with an Order to Provide Information or Assistance contrary to section 3LA(6) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth);
  • Possessing a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine, reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported contrary to section 307.9 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The 40-year-old man is set to face court again on 4 November, 2021.

24-year-old Noble Park man:

  • Cultivating a marketable quantity of controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The 24-year-old man is set to face court in January, 2023.

Australia’s law enforcement agencies need the community’s ongoing assistance to minimise the harm caused by drugs, and urge anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or to submit at confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

Note to media:

Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. The following services provide people with access to support and information.

  • For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
  • Access free 24/7 drug and alcohol counselling online at www.counsellingonline.org.au.
  • For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to www.turningpoint.org.au.
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