Wannabe gangsters new style of criminal

By Ava Benny-Morrison in Sydney

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

They are conveniently naive accountants, cash-strapped drug mules and international students.

Together they contribute to a A$15 billion ($16 billion) blow to the Australian economy each year.

They come from varying backgrounds and ethnicities but they share a common motive - the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

And it's the changing face of organised crime in Australia - no longer the domain of kingpins but rather a complex web of intermediaries that appears anything but organised.

To counteract, agencies from the NSW Police to the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) are directing their resources and reshaping their skills set to deal with this new world.

"Two-bit wannabe gangsters," is how one senior officer put it.

But among the gangsters that remain on the police radar, are lawyers, bankers and accountants - the professional facilitators - that are helping criminals legitimise their dirty cash.

Some of the professionals are complicit, others turn a blind eye while some are ignorant.

A police task force launched earlier this year to tackle the problem - the NSW organised crime squad - has resulted in 43 arrests and netted almost A$3.7 million in cash.

But authorities concede they are only scratching the surface of these transnational crime networks. So concerning is the issue, the ACC last year pinned organised crime as one of the major national security risks.

Detective Superintendent Scott Cook says criminals are stepping outside traditional gang or ethnic boundaries.

"Most of the high-level organised crime in NSW and Australia is not related to those sort of groups," the organised crime squad boss said.

"There are crime groups but there are far more millions of dollars being made of much more sophisticated organised crime."

Drug trafficking is on a massive scale, Cook says, but other "services" such as gambling, betting, prostitution and money laundering are dabbled in.

The results of the recently wrapped up Strike Force Taipan shows how organised crime has evolved in NSW alone.

Among the people arrested during the operation that seized more than A$155 million in drugs were alleged Bra Boys, Hells Angels and Rebels outlaw motorcycle club members, as well as individuals with links to Asia and the Middle East.

Outside the gang sphere is the number of international students, who come to Australia on student visas but sometimes with something entirely different in mind. Cook said police were seeing a pattern in internationals coming into the country on student visas becoming caught up in the gangster lifestyle.

It's the intermediaries - the brokers putting criminals in touch with the drug suppliers in Asia - that link these networks.

"We are seeing social relationships that are developed - sometimes innocuously - that are called upon to come together for a common activity," Cook said.

Police don't deny the challenge in tackling a form of crime.

"Organised criminals continually challenge the way in which we respond to crime," State Crime Command boss Assistant Commissioner Mark Jenkins said.

"However the NSW Police Force, in partnership with the NSW Crime Commission, are meeting that challenge head on."


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