Organised crime going undetected, says AFP, as Australian hits US ‘most wanted’ list
A top security official has warned that 90 per cent of Australia’s organised crime groups are operating with relative impunity, as police say employees of the Australian arm of Dubai’s government air services company have been used to infiltrate Sydney airport and smuggle drugs.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan said Operation Ironside – the recent organised-crime sting in partnership with the FBI that has been described as the most successful in policing history – had detected and deterred only 10 per cent of the nation’s organised crime groups.
One of the organised criminals at the centre of Operation Ironside, Hakan Ayik.
“It is the other 90 per cent that we are not getting a look at or are not able to fully focus on for various reasons. That’s the bit that really concerns me, and it concerns me from the point of view of what it really does to our nation,” Mr Ryan said. “We are quite stunned at the size of organised crime in Australia.”
The comments came as one of the spin-off operations from Ironside exposed an alleged crime ring at Sydney airport. The operation led to the charging of six serving and former Australian employees of the Dubai National Air Travel Agency, raising serious concerns that the agency may have been infiltrated by a crime syndicate for several years to smuggle drugs through Sydney international airport.
And an Australian alleged crime boss has for the first time been designated a high-priority crime target by the US government. The former Sydneysider, Hakan Arif, is a fugitive and right-hand man of another most-wanted former Sydney resident, Hakan Ayik, who was a key figure in distributing the encrypted phones at the centre of Operation Ironside. The American “high priority” designation is usually reserved for Mexican and Colombian narcotics bosses and highlights the rapid global expansion of Australian crime syndicates.
Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan.Credit:Nine
In a rare and forceful public intervention in the national security debate, Mr Ryan said inadequate resourcing of the AFP combined with the laws of supply and demand in the illicit drug market meant Australia’s premier law enforcement agency was often playing catch-up, increasingly relying on technological innovation to deter criminal targets.
“We could have another 500 investigators working in the organised crime space and it would still be an issue for us,” Mr Ryan said, describing organised crime as a “completely insidious” national security threat that had been overshadowed by terrorism.
“It just doesn’t get the attention it deserves to get,” he said.
Mr Ryan’s comments are at odds with a recent pledge by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said his government “will make sure that [the AFP are] resourced to do their job”.
Mr Morrison made the comments on June 8, when the AFP and the federal government held a press conference to highlight the stunning results of Ironside, a three-year probe in which criminals unknowingly distributed encrypted phones that relayed their private communications to police. The operation has led to hundreds of arrests and multi-tonne drug seizures around the globe.
Messages on the encrypted An0m app created by law enforcement authorities to snare criminals.
Mr Ryan’s comments, recorded by the Lowy Institute for a special podcast, are unusual because senior police are often at pains not to cross over government messaging that border security and resourcing are adequate. But Mr Ryan warned that, left unchecked, organised crime would continue to corrupt parts of the economy and lead to huge costs, including in the health sector.
“The effects and the outcomes of organised crime are very, very significant … look at the integrity of our institutions, particularly legitimate supply chains.”
Also this week, one serving and one former Dubai National Air Travel Agency employee were arrested on Wednesday. Another four were charged earlier this year.
In a statement, federal police alleged the six had planned to import drugs into Australia “within a cargo box in the hold of a commercial aircraft on 7 March 2020”. The suspected importation never occurred, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the AFP has also linked the group to a 38-kilogram methamphetamine importation into Sydney via an Air Canada flight in March 2019.
The arrests are the work of a new AFP aviation crime targeting team, launched in June. That same month, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes revealed new evidence of the organised crime infiltration of Qantas and other major airport and waterfront companies.
AFP Detective Inspector Scott Sykes said the AFP was continuing to sift through the leads produced by Operation Ironside, “increasingly focusing on targeting trusted insiders working in Australia’s busiest airport”.
Mr Ryan’s warnings about the scale and impact of organised crime, and its ability to corrupt businesses and organisations, were mirrored in June by the head of Australia’s peak criminal intelligence agency, Mike Phelan.
Mr Phelan, who heads the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, warned that Australia’s most dangerous and wanted crime bosses had organised themselves into a cartel earning an estimated $1.5 billion a year. He also said the “Aussie Cartel” was smuggling drugs past the nation’s borders with the help of corrupt government officials and border insiders.
One of the nine men designated cartel leaders by the commission is Hakan Ayik, who remains on the run after he unwittingly became a distributor of the communications platform that was secretly set up and controlled by police as part of Operation Ironside. Another alleged member of the Aussie Cartel is Hakan Arif, who was previously arrested in Dubai as part of an AFP drug importation investigation but fled while on bail. Both Ayik and Arif are believed to be hiding out in Turkey.
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