Organised criminals are ‘trusted insiders’ in some of Australia’s biggest freight firms
27th July 2021

Intelligence gathered in multiple policing probes has found leading Australian freight, logistics and transport firms are being infiltrated by organised crime groups and bikies to import drugs and illegal tobacco then distribute them around Australia.

The information comes as Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw will on Wednesday reveal that the cracking of the encrypted An0m app used by criminals has led to the arrest of 29 “trusted insiders”, including people working in “freight forwarding and logistics companies, couriers, trucking firms” and at “ports, airports and mail centres”.

A cross-border law enforcement operation earlier this year arrested a large number of alleged criminals and “trusted insiders”.Credit:

Dozens of law enforcement probes over the past decade – several of which The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have reviewed in court or been briefed on by official sources – have gathered evidence and intelligence suggesting logistics firms such as NNR Global, stevedoring company Patrick Terminals, airport services firm Dnata and freight giants Toll, TNT and Linfox all have employees identified as suspects or people closely linked to organised crime groups.

In June, The Age and Herald also revealed a police intelligence operation codenamed Brunello had warned that dozens of Qantas employees had links to organised crime.

Finding enough direct evidence to charge such employees is usually difficult.

But the AFP’s infiltration over three years of the An0m encrypted phone system, known as Operation Ironside, has uncovered direct messages between crime bosses and trusted employees, paving the way for 29 arrests.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw says 20 suspected criminal insiders held aviation or maritime security identification cards.Credit:The Age

“Intelligence reveals trusted insiders charged fees between 15 to 25 per cent of the drugs they were moving around the country,” Mr Kershaw will say in a speech to the National Press Club.

“Baggage handlers and postal workers” were having their assets targeted by police via proceeds-of-crime orders, he said, warning that “workers who have knowledge of logistics chains and facilitate crime” were being “methodically” identified by his agency.

Mr Kershaw will also reveal that at least 20 of the 29 insiders arrested previously held aviation or maritime security identification cards, giving them access to sensitive border sites. And he will say that “lawyers, accountants, and some government officials have been identified as enablers of Australia’s multibillion-dollar drug-trafficking industry”.

The Operation Ironside arrests represent the biggest unified effort in Australian law enforcement history to target those working on the “inside” in companies.

Intelligence reports suggest the Australian arm of international logistics giant NNR Global (previously known as Maltacourt Logistics) had been associated with 20 ostensibly legitimate maritime importations over seven years that were later found by authorities to contain smuggled tobacco or drugs.

The high incidence of importations linked to this one firm has led senior policing officials to conclude that NNR’s Australian arm has been infiltrated by organised crime groups, official sources said.

Speaking anonymously because they were not authorised to comment publicly, the sources confirmed that NNR Global, along with airline Qantas, employ at least one staff member named on Australia’s confidential National Criminal Target List, which is used by state and federal policing agencies to designate figures suspected to be members of top-tier crime groups.

NNR’s customs and compliance manager, Ali Awada, said he had no knowledge that the firm had been compromised and stressed he and other company officials worked closely with Australian authorities in the event smugglers were suspected of using NNR to facilitate illegal activity.

“I’m very closely linked to Customs and to Border Force,” Mr Awada said.

Some major freight companies allegedly employ “trusted insiders” of organised crime groups.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

In June, the chief executive of Australia’s peak criminal intelligence agency, Mike Phelan, warned that Australian crime bosses “share supply routes, they share logistic supply chains … they share any corrupt networks”.

When asked if a criminal cartel was corrupting government institutions, Mr Phelan said it was “extremely naive” to think it had not penetrated Australian law enforcement agencies.

For almost a decade, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Australian Federal Police have pushed politicians to increase the vetting of employees at airports and ports to weed out criminal syndicates.

Labor has previously opposed toughening the maritime and aviation security card vetting regime, arguing that it was flawed, but tougher vetting legislation passed Federal Parliament last month in the wake of Operation Ironside.

The Australian Border Force has also identified gaps in the regulation of freight forwarders, who help importers move their goods across the border, are being exploited by criminal groups. At least three firms or individuals suspected by police to have used their ABF-issued customs broker’s licences to facilitate criminal importations of drugs and tobacco have retained the licences.

In a statement, Australian Border Force said it had been working for years to counter supply-chain vulnerabilities and in 2019 launched Project Jardena to deal with the issue.

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