Customs officials charged over drug and tobacco smuggling

10 Aug 2017By abbie

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Australian Border Force Acting Commissioner Michael Outram (AAP)

SBS World News Radio: Two Australian Customs officials have been charged over their alleged involvement in a conspiracy to illegally import drugs and tobacco into the country.

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The pair has been arrested as part of a year-long investigation targeting an international crime syndicate operating between Australia and the Middle East.

In what's been described as an "extremely good week" for the Australia's law enforcement, the latest arrests involve alleged corruption inside Border Force itself.

Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner, Neil Gaughan, says a customs official and a former customs official have been arrested over their involvement in an alleged international tobacco smuggling ring.

"We will be alleging that these persons utilised their knowledge and expertise to assist the Jomaa organised crime family bring border-controlled drugs into Australia."

They're among eight people arrested in Sydney this week, and one in Dubai, as part of a year-long operation targeting the Jomaa criminal network.

Assistant Commissioner Gaughan says the group has been known to police for over a decade.

"They are significant organised crime figures who have been operating in Australia, and in their view, overseas, with impunity for a significant period of time."

Raids across Sydney this week, conducted as part of the operation, saw the seizure of 80 kilograms of cocaine and over $2 million in cash.

The syndicate is alleged to be responsible for smuggling 50 million cigarettes into Australia and engaging in money-laundering activities.

Police says they've stopped over 200 kilograms of MDMA, or ecstasy, from entering the country.

Serving Border Force officer Craig Eakin and former Border Force official Johayna Merhi have been charged over their alleged links to the syndicate.

Australian Border Force Acting Commissioner Michael Outram says they have brought Border Force into disrepute.

"I have absolutely zero tolerance for corruption in my organisation. I can speak for the vast majority of members in my organisation. 99.9 per cent of our officers are diligent, dedicated, they come to work every day and do a fantastic job. One corrupt officer tarnishes the reputation of all of us."

While authorities insist they're working hard to dismantle organised crime syndicates, the development again raises questions about the integrity of Australia's borders.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says it should serve as a warning to anyone threatening Australia's borders.

"There has always been corruption, there always will be and our job is to weed it out. And this should serve as a very clear message to anybody who is involved in, at the fringes of, consorting with, any sort of criminal behaviour."

Neil Gaughan says a 47 year-old man arrested in Dubai heads the syndicate and will be extradited to Australia.

"He is well-known to law enforcement and previously thought that, obviously, he could flee from authorities and conduct his criminal enterprise offshore. Clearly, the arrests show that you cannot hide from Australian law enforcement, regardless of whereabouts in the world you are."

This week, more than 800 officers have disrupted three significant organised crime groups, including one involving the Ibrahim family, but police insist there are no links between the investigations.

 

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