Australia cracks global money-laundering ring
23 January 2014, 12:36
Sydney - Australian police revealed on Thursday they had cracked a major global money-laundering ring with operatives in more than 20 countries and funds siphoned off to groups reported to include Hezbollah.
The Australian crime commission said more than US$512m of drugs and assets had been seized, including $22.8m in cash, in a year-long sting codenamed Eligo targeting the offshore laundering of funds generated by outlaw motorcycle gangs, people-smugglers and others.
According to the ACC, the operation had disrupted 18 serious and organised crime groups and singled out 128 individuals of interest in more than 20 countries, tapping information from agencies including the United States drug enforcement administration.
Eligo saw 105 people arrested on 190 separate charges and resulted in the closure of three major clandestine methamphetamine labs and Australia's largest-ever urban hydroponic cannabis hothouse in Sydney last November.
"The task force focused on high-threat money laundering activities and, as a result, revealed a range of different crime types which has led to these extraordinary outcomes", said Australia's justice minister Michael Keenan.
"Seizing more than $550m worth of drugs and cash is a significant blow to the criminal economy", he added.
Legitimate international cash wiring services were a major focus of the operation, with the government's anti-laundering agency AUSTRAC saying they had been identified as at "high risk of being exploited by serious and organised crime groups".
According to a Fairfax media expose on the operation, criminals targeted foreign nationals and students in Australia awaiting remittances from overseas, hijacking the transaction by depositing dirty money to the payee and then taking the cash wired from offshore.
Fairfax said at least one of the exchange houses used in the Middle East and Asia delivered a cut from every dollar it laundered to Lebanon's powerful Shi’ite movement and Syria ally Hezbollah, which is banned as a terrorist organisation in Australia.
"It was just never-ending", said ACC acting chief Colonel Blanch. "We were regularly finding bags of $500 000 and $400 000."
Organised crime is estimated to cost $10-15bn per year by the ACC, with drugs, money-laundering, fraud, firearms and high-tech cyber offences the major issues.