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Australia-based Albanian drug syndicate dismantled

Image of drugs seized during operation

A joint law enforcement investigation into an Australia-based Albanian drug and money laundering syndicate lead to the disruption of a large-scale importation of methamphetamine into the country. The methamphetamine was smuggled into Australia in a vehicle that was imported from the United States of America (USA).

Approximately 30 kilograms of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of over AUD20 million was concealed in the vehicle. Law enforcement made arrests after detecting the consignment and conducting surveillance on the offenders' activities. Three offenders were charged with importing, possessing, and attempting to import a border controlled drug namely methamphetamine.

This case study involves the use of international funds transfer instructions (IFTIs) to finance the importation of methamphetamine into Australia.  

Indicators

The following indicators may help to identify similar criminal activities:

  • large value IFTIs sent overseas, funded by cash
  • multiple IFTIs sent overseas to the same beneficiary in a short time period, on the same day or over a week
  • multiple IFTIs received by Australian beneficiaries by the same customer in excess of AUD10,000 in a short time period, e.g. over a week.

Investigation outline

The law enforcement investigation revealed a consignment containing an imported vehicle from the USA which was paid for by an IFTI and scheduled to be received by offender A. After examining the consignment, law enforcement discovered the vehicle contained approximately 30 kilograms of methamphetamine concealed within two panels. Two further offenders were identified during the course of the investigation. Offender B, a Spanish national, was identified as a shore-party for the importation whose role involved accessing the concealed drugs from the vehicle. Offender C, an Italian national residing in Australia on a temporary visa, was also identified as assisting offender B to access the drugs.

The drugs were substituted by law enforcement and a controlled delivery was undertaken to offender A's premises. Law enforcement investigators observed offenders B and C purchasing equipment that was subsequently used to access the drugs from the vehicle. The following day, offender B was observed entering the garage of offender A's home. After accessing the drugs, offender B was arrested and found to be in the possession of a backpack containing the drugs.

A short time later, offender A was arrested in a nearby location. Law enforcement arrested offender C at an airport attempting to depart the country on a one-way ticket to Italy the following day.

During the course of the investigation, offender B's involvement in cocaine imports was also uncovered. Two packages were discovered in offender B's apartment, which were imported via air cargo and contained cocaine concealed in clothing items.

As a result of the investigation law enforcement made the following seizures:

  • approximately 30 kilograms of methamphetamine
  • approximately 16 kilograms of cocaine
  • a vehicle imported from the United States
  • AUD3,500 in cash
  • computers and related equipment used to facilitate the importation.

Industry contribution

Threshold transaction reports (TTRs) submitted by reporting entities - including a remitter and banks - identified the transaction relating to the purchase of the imported vehicle and significant cash transactions made by offender A. These included:

  • a TTR relating to an IFTI of approximately AUD40,800 sent to a beneficiary in the United States and funded mostly by cash
  • two cash withdrawals of AUD10,000 and AUD15,000 and a cash deposit of AUD10,000 over a three year period.

AUSTRAC contribution

AUSTRAC analysis of transaction reports assisted with the identification of associates within the syndicate and links to the overseas supply network. The analysis confirmed the purchase of the imported vehicle using an IFTI valued at AUD40,800 sent to a beneficiary in the USA. Transaction reports analysis also revealed large flows of funds via IFTIs over an eight year period, both into Australia and overseas:

  • A total of 17 IFTIs valued at AUD200,000 were received by offender A and a family member from overseas customers in Norway, Switzerland, Serbia and the United States.
  • Of the AUD200,000 inbound IFTIs received by offender A and a family member, three IFTIs totalling AUD147,365 were received over a two-month period prior to the importation. All three IFTIs were above the AUD10,000 threshold, with one being for AUD114,300.
  • A total of 84 IFTIs valued at AUD133,610 were sent by offender A and a family member to overseas beneficiaries in Albania, Norway, Serbia, Turkey and the United States.  
  • With the exception of one IFTI which related to the purchase of the vehicle for AUD40,800, they were for structured amounts ranging from AUD95 to AUD9000. In some cases, multiple IFTIs were sent on the same day, or within a week, to the same beneficiary.

Outcome

As a result of the investigation, three syndicate members were arrested and charged:

  • Offender A was charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
  • Offender B was charged with attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug and was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment.
  • Offender C was charged with conspiring to import a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug and was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

Case study summary

Offence Drug importation
Customer Individual
Industry

Remittance services

Banking - Authorised deposit-taking institution (ADI)

Channel

Electronic

Physical

Report type

TTR

IFTI

Jurisdiction

Domestic

International – United States of America

Designated service

Remittance services (money transfers)

Account and deposit-taking services

Last modified: 01/06/2016 14:09