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Kings of crime seek out airline crew and travellers

July 20, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Crime syndicates are seeking to recruit aircrew, backpackers and tourists to smuggle drugs and contraband into Australia.

Vetting and screening of airline staff has been tightened. Experts suspect large organised crime syndicates are targeting airline workers because of their security clearances. Dishonest workers sometimes operate on their own behalf.

It’s not just illegal drugs. Four Jetstar flight attendants were arrested with 3.5kg of tobacco strapped to their bodies and hidden in their underwear (smokers, take note) after a six-hour flight from Bali last month, a report in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph disclosed. There’s money in tobacco but more in other substances. In May, a Malaysia Airlines flight attendant was caught smuggling AUD 1.4 million of heroin.

Just last week, Australian Federal Police (AFP) arrested and charged a 26-year-old French national in Sydney for his alleged role in a European syndicate suspected of using tourists, including students and backpackers, to distribute illegal drugs imported from France.

Over a six-month period, a joint AFP and Australian Border Force (ABF) operation has intercepted about 40 packages of MDMA and cocaine linked to the syndicate. The drugs, which have an estimated value of up to AUD 3.3 million, were hidden in wine bottles, potato chip packets and chilli paste that were either packed in luggage or sent via the post.

The operation has now resulted in three French nationals and one Belgian national being arrested and charged for their role in the syndicate since March 2018.

Illegal drugs allegedly imported from France for distribution in Australia by tourists, including students and backpackers

NSW Police have also arrested and charged eight people, including students and backpackers, for their role in trafficking the drugs.

AFP Detective Superintendent Paul Hopkins said the operation demonstrates the AFP and ABF’s shared commitment to stopping harmful drugs from reaching the Australian community.

ABF Commander Investigations, Graeme Grosse, said the operation highlights the measures criminals use to import illegal drugs.

“The creative and ever-changing methods used by criminals to import drugs speak to the worrying demand for them in Australia. It also makes it clear stopping the inflow of drugs into our country is a whole-of-community issue, not just one for authorities to tackle,” Commander Grosse said.

Criminal mastermind

“We hope this operation sends a message, if you’re thinking of buying, selling or transporting illicit drugs, the penalties are severe and it’s simply not worth the risk – we will catch you.”

Last month, six people were charged by the ABF over their alleged involvement in a highly organised tobacco smuggling syndicate that was operating through Melbourne International Airport.

As a result of intelligence gathered through other operations, ABF investigators stood up an operation to target passengers on a number of flights from South East Asian ports arriving in Melbourne.

As part of the targeted operation, between June 2017 and May 2018, 94 individuals were detected arriving at Melbourne Airport with illicit tobacco and were removed from Australia.

Investigations revealed that the targeted passengers were carrying significant quantities of illicit cigarettes in their suitcases. More than 2.7 million illicit cigarettes were detected during the course of the investigation, worth approximately AUD 1.94 million in evaded duty.

Three Chinese nationals were arrested in January over their alleged involvement in the operation.

On 2 March 2018, two further male Chinese nationals were identified as couriers and were arrested and charged with importing tobacco products with the intention to evade revenue, contrary to Section 233BABAD(1) of the Customs Act 1901.

Written by Peter Needham

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