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Australian law enforcement using gold to solve crime

VMD involves the thermal evaporation of metals, primarily gold or silver and zinc inside a custom built chamber.  

The AFP has revealed the surprising role gold is playing to help law enforcement identify and track down alleged criminals, thanks to a special forensic capability.

AFP Forensic Teams are using precious metals such as gold and silver in an evidence recovery technique that can develop fingerprints on cash along with other items including plastics, glass, mobile phones, firearms and other weapons.

IMAGE Gold on banknote 1

The powerful technique, known as Vacuum Metal Deposition (VMD), was responsible for the detection of dozens of fingerprints, some of which were identified to alleged criminals, on seizures of Australian currency as part of Operation Ironside.

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IMAGE VMD Machine 2
Image source: Vacuum Metal Deposition (VMD), AFP.

VMD involves the thermal evaporation of metals, primarily gold or silver and zinc inside a custom built chamber.  The technique causes these metals to form thin films under the controlled high vacuum conditions, which develops any ‘invisible’ fingerprints present, so that they can be seen.

AFP Forensic Coordinator Dr Nathan Scudder said the evidence recovery technique using gold had delivered significant results for multiple AFP investigations part of Operation Ironside.

He said:

“The AFP’s Forensic Team played a significant role in Operation Ironside thanks to our elite evidence recovery techniques. We used VMD to process more than twenty alleged illicit cash seizures, totalling thousands of dollars, as part of Operation Ironside. These banknotes were sent to our Majura Forensic Facility to undergo specialist fingerprint development in a purpose built machine.”

Dr Scudder said the capabilities of AFP Forensics was continuously evolving and allowing investigators to locate evidence that previously would have remained undetected.

“This is an extremely powerful and sensitive process where precious metals such as gold can actually enhance the fingerprints of individuals that have touched the exhibits, such as banknotes. Suddenly evidence that was not visible before has been miraculously recovered, thanks to this capability.”

The AFP used the VMD technique to conduct evidence recovery from cash seizures from multiple investigations linked to Operation Ironside including the following case studies:

Operation IRONSIDE-REGA:

On 9 June, 2021  a Hunter Valley man was arrested as part of Operation Ironside-Rega after approximately $4.9 million dollars, believed to be the proceeds of crime, was allegedly discovered inside his home.

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AFP officers, along with the NSW Police Force Drugs and Firearms Squad conducted a search warrant at the man’s rural New South Wales’ home in Quorrobolong, where detectives allegedly located 49 bundles of illicit cash inside the wall of a sheet metal shed, with each bundle containing $100,000.

The court later ordered for the entire amount of approximately $4.9 million to be forfeited to the Commonwealth.

Operation IRONSIDE-PRIENE:

Also in June, 2021, AFP investigators recovered and seized approximately $47,000 in cash, including $40,000 hidden inside a shoebox, located during a search warrant on the New South Wales Central Coast.

The search warrant at the Erina Heights property on 7 June, 2021 was part of a larger investigation into an alleged criminal syndicate responsible for trafficking and importing methamphetamine, leading to the seizure of more than 460 kilograms of the illicit drug.

Four men from New South Wales were arrested as part of Operation Ironside-Priene.

Operation IRONSIDE-GALVESTON:

In December, 2021 as part of the second phase of Operation Ironside AFP detectives with assistance from NSW Police Force and Australian Border Force officers executed more than 20 search warrants across Sydney as a result of intelligence collected from the AN0M platform.

Police seized $330,000 in cash, along with 21 suspected encrypted devices, firearms, ammunition and illicit drugs.  

Eight men faced court in relation to the targeted police activity.

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