Since last year, Australian police have managed to seize $510 million in drugs, cash and assets connected to some 18 organized crime syndicates operating across more than 20 countries stretching from Southeast Asia to the Middle East.
The international sting operation, codenamed Eligo, focused on money laundering – what the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) describes as “the lifeblood of organized crime.”
“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,” Australia’s Justice Minister Michael Keenan told AFP. “[The seizure] is a significant blow to the criminal economy.”
Australian police had initially targeted outlaw biker gangs and human traffickers, two groups that often take advantage of foreign nationals and study-abroad students in Australia who receive frequent remittances from overseas.
Crime syndicates exploit legitimate wire services by “hijacking” transactions, depositing drug money in the recipient’s account and taking the “clean” money that has been sent from abroad. Few victims ever realize that the laundering has taken place.
“Bikie” gangs and people-smugglers weren’t the only groups tied to the wire transfer scam – Operation Eligo also found an Islamic connection.
“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 Shiite movement and Syria ally Hezbollah, which is banned as a terrorist organization in Australia,” reported Fairfax.
The task force also managed to shut down several major drug manufacturing operations, including three commercial methamphetamine laboratories in Victoria and a large-scale hydroponic marijuana “farm” in New South Wales.
The ACC added that 105 people have been arrested on 190 separate charges. One of them, a 58-year-old U.S. citizen, was allegedly behind the largest single seizure of crime-related cash in Australian history.
The unnamed American was taken into custody last Saturday after police found seven suitcases containing roughly $5 million in cash at his apartment. Officials said that he had arrived in Sydney via Costa Rica two days prior to the bust.
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus said that the money – which was likely destined to leave Australia – will instead be used to fight crime.