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AFP Leaders - Stefan Jerga

As Acting National Manager of the AFP’s Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce, Stefan Jerga heads up the team responsible for removing the profit from crime and preventing its reinvestment in further criminal enterprise.

In the past 15 months, Stefan and his team have restrained in excess of $340 million in criminal assets, including in excess of $100 million offshore. For many starting out in the law, working for the AFP may not be front of mind. But sixteen years on, it is a career move that has taken Stefan Jerga overseas, to the High Court and to the fore of the AFP's legal bid to hit criminals where it hurts...their wallets.

What motivated you to apply to become a police officer/AFP member?

It was more of a case of the AFP finding me rather than the other way around. Following a number of years as a corporate and banking and finance lawyer at one of Australia’s large international firms, I joined the Australian Government Solicitor and was then seconded to the AFP. It is fair to say the AFP had me at ‘hello’. Within two weeks, I had worked on a number of very meaningful matters alongside some very passionate, smart and focused people. I knew the AFP was where I wanted to be.

Sixteen years later, I can say, that along with my family - bumping into the AFP has been the other great fortune of my life. Throughout this time I have bounced out of bed, anticipating the day’s adventures ahead, and how I will be called upon to support our vision and mission, the community and nation we serve.

How have you seen the AFP change in your time in the organisation?

When I joined in early 2004, the AFP had just established the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, its International Deployment Group was fast emerging, and the Australian Protective Service would soon reintegrate into the AFP.

There was activity and change across the organisation, and this has remained the case throughout my 16 years here.

While new capabilities, partnerships, and criminality are natural parts of our evolving operating environment – the AFP, law enforcement more generally, the community and government have come to appreciate more than ever the mental and physical health challenges and risks of policing.

While getting our support settings right is an ongoing journey, we have seen a tremendous upswing in the suite of health and wellbeing services provided to our members. I am very optimistic about our direction in this area.

While the AFP has been in a continual state of change across my career, an enduring feature has been the opportunities, the fascinating work, the ‘100 careers in one’, and the passion its people  have for the cause - the mission, the vision and our values.  

Tell us about a moment that stands out in your career?

There have been many.

Deploying to Vanuatu in 2006, as part of the AFP-led Vanuatu Police Force Capacity Building Project was a highlight. I worked closely with Vanuatu Police Force (VPF) Commissioner Patu Lui and my VPF legal counterpart and friend, Jesse Temar, while also leading the review and drafting of a new Police Act. It was challenging but definitely rewarding.

Being promoted to the senior executive and the opportunity to further support the Commissioner and our senior team with their values-based vision for the AFP was also a great thrill,as is any time I lead an Australian delegation as part of our engagement with our international criminal assets confiscation partners.

That said, the moment that towers above all is a matter in which I had a very modest involvement. It was more about the deep privilege and honour I felt  observing so many of my colleagues answer the call, put themselves in harm’s way or otherwise commit and sacrifice so much professionally and personally, and without hesitation.

That moment is the AFP’s response to the downing of MH17 in 2014.

As an organisation we moved so fast, within days deploying specialist response teams, investigators, disaster victim identification (DVI) teams and more to the other side of the world. Attending our Canberra Headquarters Incident Coordination Centre each day, my role as a senior lawyer included participating in conversations with our forward investigation teams assessing the crash site while gunfire and other reminders of the conflict zone they were in were readily apparent. It was surreal, and a reflection of the challenging operating environment our people were working in.

We also had other colleagues working in locations across Europe, including members of our DVI teams – parents of young children themselves – working in trying conditions and far from home.  It was the most compelling example of human endeavour, team work and focus I have witnessed in my 16 years in the AFP. It demonstrated to us all that the AFP is a wonderful, highly responsive organisation, and when we all work together we are capable of anything.  

What do you think is a common misconception of the AFP?

Depending upon where you live in Australia or your touch points with the AFP, Australians may think we have a narrow operating remit. That we just police airports, seize drugs or provide community police services to the Australian Capital Territory.

But this is not the case.

As Australia’s national and international police organisation we have very broad legislative functions, have been entrusted to serve the community and our nation in so many incredible ways, and we have a presence across Australia and in over 30 countries.

Reflective of the diversity of our work, police, protective services and intelligence officers, data scientists and analysts, chemists, biologists, doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, media and communications specialists, web developers, human resource and finance specialists, policy officers, and cyber and cryptocurrency specialists, are just some of the many careers in the  AFP. Regardless of what role you play you will find a strong connection to the AFP’s vision and mission, and our bridge to the community.   

What are you most proud of in your career?

If I am proud of anything at a personal level, it’s that I know that I have given my very best, and I have endeavoured to live the AFP values to their fullest, each and every day for 16 years. I hope that my colleagues think that I have done things right most days.

As for what I am typically most proud of - I am very proud to work for the AFP. I am proud of the wonderful operational results the women and men of the AFP achieve. The many smart, inspiring and committed people we have in the AFP, and I am always so proud of the teams I have led throughout the years.

In my current role, I am tremendously proud and appreciative of the investigators, litigators, forensic accountants and partner agency colleagues who work in our Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce. In the past 15 months, we have restrained in excess of $340 million in criminal assets, including in excess of $100 million offshore.

I continue to marvel at the team’s ability to deliver results, their commitment and their tenacity. I do worry about them though and only sleep a little easier when I know they are ok.   

What challenges do you believe the AFP will face going forward?

Staying a step ahead of the criminal environment and outsmarting criminals will always be an ongoing challenge, but one that we are capable of meeting.

In a challenging operational and fiscal environment for all organisations, public or private, I see many of our challenges as opportunities. How do we better innovate, collaborate, harness the totality of our information holdings as well as those of our partners? In these areas, there will always be untapped riches and opportunities to deliver even better outcomes for our community and nation.