New South Wales and German police have broken a gun-smuggling ring that has been supplying firearms to Sydney's warring bikie and Middle East crime gangs.
Tracing illegal Glock handguns back to Austria, including one used in a shooting in the suburb of Campsie in January, investigators uncovered the ring operating out of the Sylvania Waters Post Office.
Police believe the ring may have imported as many as 220 guns in the past three months.
"This isn't just a border security issue, this is a national security issue," NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said yesterday.
German police arrested a firearms dealer for allegedly falsifying consignment notes for weapons smuggled to Australia, and three Sydney men have been charged with a range of offences carrying sentences of up to 20 years' jail.
The discovery of the illicit trade in Glocks has given further confirmation of trends reported by the Institute of Criminology showing the increasing use of handguns for protection by gangs and drug dealers because of high firepower and easy concealment.
The institute said handguns accounted for about half of all firearm-related homicides and were used especially in crimes targeting organisations and large cash robberies.
Federal and state law agencies last month launched a new crackdown on illegal firearms that will cross state borders in a bid to uncover the national blackmarket in guns.
Triggered by a spike in shootings in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, the Australian Crime Commission is co-ordinating the high-tech tracing of weapons used in dozens of drive-by shootings.
It is also investigating links to organised crime, including outlaw motorcycle gangs that have also been targeted by tough laws revised to circumvent adverse High Court rulings.
Laws on supply and possession of ammunition are also being tightened.
The Crime Commission is now developing a national intelligence assessment involving federal, state and territory police, agencies such as customs, and data from the American online E-Trace network, which tracks the history of illegal weapons and identifies their origins.
The intelligence assessment, due to be completed by July, will include tracing analysis from all shootings, and all weapons seized, across the nation in the past year.
The commission has already been working with the NSW police to trace guns used in Sydney's drive-by shootings, and using its coercive powers to help South Australia police gain information from witnesses refusing to talk.
NSW police also set up Strike Force Maxworthy to investigate the importation of illegal firearms from Germany to Australia. after they tracked a number of illegal firearms to a batch manufactured in Austria.
These included the Glock used in the Campsie shooting.
Scipione said the strike force had dismantled an international firearms supply chain with 12 simultaneous raids.
Police seized 40 Glock magazines, seven firearms, ammunition, small quantities of steroids and prohibited drugs, numerous mail items, documents and computer equipment.
"We will be alleging these guns were being imported specifically for use by criminals, including outlaw motorcycle gang members and those in Middle Eastern organised crime groups," Scipione said.
A 30-year-old post office licensee, a 21-year-old import business employee and a 27-year-old telecommunications technician face firearms and other charges.
Selling firearms on an ongoing basis and aggravated unauthorised firearms possession each carry penalties of up to 20 years' imprisonment; and intentionally importing prohibited goods can mean up to 10 years' jail.
In Remscheid, a city in northwestern Germany, police arrested a man and seized documents and parcels.
Working with the German federal police and other law and customs agencies, detectives from NSW's firearms and organised crime squad found that "numerous" Glock handguns manufactured in Austria had been on-sold through a number of companies to a German firearms dealership.
They were then allegedly imported into Australia by a criminal syndicate using forged documentation.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we have prevented a significant number of illegal handguns making their way into Sydney," Scipionesaid.
He said investigations were continuing to determine how many firearms might have been imported into Australia before the smuggling ring was broken.
"This operation has uncovered a methodology being used by the syndicate which authorities are now aware of and can police more rigorously."
A WEEK ON SYDNEY'S STREETS
In the past week police have arrested members of groups identified as illegal Glock handgun customers, while firearms continue to blight Sydney. Incidents included:
* The Middle Eastern organised crime squad arrested two men with 5000 Ecstasy pills worth A$250,000 ($NZ304,000).
* Two Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang members arrested with more than 300 Ecstasy tablets and about A$25,000 including A$3400 clamped in one of the men's buttocks.
* Two men, one armed with a firearm, tried to rob a Berkley tobacconist.
* Shots were fired into homes in Bexley and Royalla, west of the city.
* A stun gun and cannabis were seized in a raid on the homes of Rebels associates, a firearm, stun gun, ammunition and drugs were found in another raid in Sydney's inner west, and a man was arrested after a sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun was found in an Ashfield home.
* Four men used a gun to force a motorcyclist to stop and stole his Chrome Horse chopper.