AFP seizes $47m assets as part of organised crime syndicate investigation

More than 60 search warrants were executed at properties across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

A combined effort by Victoria Police and the AFP has resulted in more than $47M worth of assets including, property, cars and a luxury yacht being seized as part of investigations into one of the state’s most significant organised crime syndicates.

The Victoria Police investigation, known as Operation Steelers, commenced in October 2020 and was led by the Echo Taskforce.

It primarily focused on the large-scale Middle Eastern Organised Crime syndicate’s access to firearms, large-scale drug importation and unexplained wealth, as well as threats to life.

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The AFP’s Operation Fuji, which began in August 2021, had a strong focus on the syndicate’s criminal operations, including drug importations, and how they were planned and coordinated by syndicate leaders in custody in the prison system.

A total of 52 people across both investigations have been arrested and charged with a range of offences including:

  • Importing a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs
  • Trafficking a large commercial quantity of:
    • Heroin
    • Amphetamine
    • Cocaine
    • 1,4-Butanediol
  • Possess firearm when Firearm Prohibition Order applies
  • Deal with proceeds of crime
  • Discharge firearm at person
  • Obtain financial advantage by deception
  • Make/use false document
  • Dealing with money or property being proceeds of crime recklessly greater than $1,000,000
  • Dealing with money or property reasonable suspected of being proceeds of crime, money/property greater than $100,000
  • Knowingly dealing in money or property being proceeds of indictable crime greater than $10,000,000
  • Dealing with money or property reasonably suspected of being proceeds of indictable crime greater than $10,000,000

Nine of these people have been convicted and sentenced in criminal prosecutions.

More than 60 search warrants were executed at properties across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Items seized during the investigations included the following:

  • $2.2m cash, as well as a number of bank accounts restrained;
  • drugs including 19kg heroin, 81.5kg methylamphetamine, 6.6kg cocaine, 356L 1,4 Butanediol, cannabis, GHB and various prescription medication; and
  • three firearms and other weapons, including a speargun and knuckle dusters.

As part of this investigation, police had a strong focus on the seizure of assets including those believed to be the proceeds of crime.

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Attacking the criminal business model through confiscating criminal assets was central to the Victoria Police and the AFP’s strategy and as result the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) and Victoria Police’s Criminal Proceeds Squad restrained over $47m in assets linked to the syndicate.

This includes:

  • 60 residential properties across Victoria and NSW including 33 parcels of land in a development site in Melbourne’s west;
  • A luxury boat valued at approximately $800,000;
  • Five paintings by noted Australian artists; and
  • A significant quantity of jewellery designer goods including multiple Cartier bracelets and Rolex watches.

Police also restrained income generated from rental properties and other money located in various bank accounts.

Included in the 60 properties restrained are addresses in Essendon, Moonee Ponds, Mickleham, Taylors Hill, Roxburgh Park, Greenvale, Malvern East, Keilor Downs, Coolaroo, Doreen, Craigieburn, Brookfield and Campbellfield.

The restraining orders for these assets were issued in the Victorian Supreme Court on 12 May 2022,16 June 2022, 23 February 2023 and 10 May 2023.

Victoria Police urge anyone with information about criminal activity to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or to submit at confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au

Assistant Commissioner Bob Hill, Victoria Police Crime Command said in a statement:

“This was a significant, lengthy and complex investigation that has substantially changed the organised crime landscape here in Victoria. This was a syndicate that has brought immense harm to the community over many through their violent criminality and large-scale drug trafficking in particular.”

He added:

“These results are testament to not only the most recent investigation, but the work of many units across Victoria Police over many years to ultimately bring this syndicate down. However one of the most crucial aspects of the success of this investigation was the collaboration between Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police. It has been said previously that when it comes to modern organised crime syndicates that it takes a network to break a network, and this operation has proven that.

“Sustained targeting by both Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police, along with support from various other agencies during the investigation, was key to our success. These results also highlight the importance of not only holding these criminals to account, but also working to remove every shred of benefit they have derived from their offending. Money remains the lifeblood of organised crime and by severing the flow of finances and taking away material benefits such as properties and vehicles, it prevents re-investment in further criminality.”

AFP Commander Paula Hudson said that the extensive value and scale of assets restrained by the CACT was a true example of law enforcement’s commitment to inflict maximum damage to organised crime in Australia.

“This investigation proves that, together with Victoria Police, the AFP is targeting and outsmarting the highest levels of organised crime,” Commander Hudson said.

Commander Hudson said that the combined skills of AFP-led CACT financial investigators, forensic accountants and litigators skilfully uncovered and exposed the techniques used by this criminal syndicate to conceal and accumulate illicit wealth.

“Our warning to all people involved in transnational organised crime groups is clear: Not only is the AFP coming to dismantle your criminal enterprises, we are coming for your homes, vehicles, cash, luxury items, including watches, bags and the shoes you parade – we target it all,” she said.

“Targeting the criminal economy by confiscating criminal assets and removing the profit from crime, is a critical strategy deployed by the AFP and its partners to disrupt organised criminal activity and deliver maximum damage to criminal syndicates. In addition to disrupting and damaging the criminal environment, it is satisfying for our committed members to see the proceeds of the criminal assets seized and redistributed back into measures supporting the community and nation they serve”.