AFP restrains $1 billion in criminal assets in major milestone

Australian Federal Police, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, Australian Border Force, Australian Taxation Office and AUSTRAC

The AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) has restrained $1.1 billion in criminal assets in the past four years, delivering a significant blow to organised criminals living large from the proceeds of crime.

Almost half of the $1 billion-plus milestone has been restrained this calendar year alone.

The two-pronged strategy of investigating and prosecuting crime syndicates and restraining and confiscating assets purchased with tainted funds, continues to land a significant blow to organised crime in Australia.

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw set a five-year, $600 million, restraint target in 2019.

It comes as the AFP today releases updated restraint results under Operation Avarus-Nightwolf, a money laundering investigation that led to seven members of an alleged organised crime syndicate being charged in October this year.

In October, the value of assets first restrained by the CACT was more than $50 million (including 14 residential properties in Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia; six motor vehicles; 51 bank accounts and shares).

As a result of further action by the CACT, the value of restrained assets in Operation Avarus-Nightwolf is now more than $160 million, including further residential properties in Victoria and Queensland as well as additional bank accounts and luxury items.

AFP Head of the CACT Stefan Jerga said a key strategy of the AFP and its partners to combat organised crime was to deprive criminals of their illegal wealth and to stop them using the proceeds of crime to bankroll further criminal ventures.

While triggers for restraints include wealth from money laundering and illicit drugs, restraint and confiscation of assets also relate to child exploitation, human trafficking, cybercrime, technology-enabled scams, fraud and national security.

Mr Jerga said when Commissioner Kershaw was appointed in late 2019, the Commissioner made asset confiscation a key operational priority for the AFP.

“Though we have exceeded Commissioner Kershaw’s original $600 million target, the CACT’s ambitions continue well beyond this. Our highly-skilled and co-located, Australia-wide teams of police, financial investigators, forensic accountants, litigators, cryptocurrency experts, and partner agency specialists, will continue to be relentless in pursuing the assets and wealth of those who attempt to operate outside of the law,’’ Mr Jerga said.

Since its permanent establishment in 2012, and having restrained almost $2 billion in criminal assets since this time, the CACT has targeted the alleged illicit wealth of some of the most notorious and significant criminals in Australia.

In June 2023, the CACT restrained more than $47 million worth of assets under Operation Fuji – a combined AFP and Victoria Police investigation into one of Victoria’s most significant organised crime syndicates. Items restrained, with a number now already forfeited, include houses, cars, fine art and a luxury yacht.

The Commonwealth’s proceeds of crime laws allow the CACT to restrain both proceeds and instruments of crime based on a civil standard of proof, as well as obtain financial penalty and unexplained wealth orders – regardless of whether there is a related criminal prosecution or investigation.

Commonwealth proceeds of crime laws also provide the CACT with strong information gathering and coercive examination powers, and an ability to restrain the assets of criminal groups without their prior knowledge.

Mr Jerga said the CACT’s operating model of co-located, Australia-wide, multi-disciplinary asset targeting teams is world-leading for asset confiscation.

“In addition to the CACT’s strong public and private partnerships in Australia, the CACT leverages the AFP’s international partners and network of deployed AFP members to also restrain and confiscate assets outside of Australia. The AFP has a presence in 34 countries.

“The success of the CACT should serve as yet another clear warning that the AFP will not allow criminals to cash in on crime. We will continue to target and disrupt their illicit operations, including by restraining and confiscating criminal assets.”

Led by the AFP, the CACT brings together the resources and expertise of the AFP, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), Australian Taxation Office (ATO), AUSTRAC and the Australian Border Force (ABF).

ACIC Acting Executive Director Intelligence Operations Dr Katie Willis said the ACIC’s mission of critical intelligence underpinned efforts to tackle serious and organised crime, which cost Australia up to $60 billion per year.

“By working closely with our CACT partners, we will continue to develop intelligence products that better inform the response to financially motivated criminal activity,” Dr Willis said.

AUSTRAC Deputy CEO Intelligence Dr John Moss said AUSTRAC was proud to work hand in hand with its partners to take the proceeds of crime out of criminals’ hands.

“AUSTRAC intelligence is a vital piece of the puzzle in identifying the assets purchased by criminals using the proceeds of crime,” Dr Moss said.

“The common thread with almost all criminal activity is the desire for financial gain, the work of the CACT hits criminals where it hurts and AUSTRAC is proud to be a part of this significant milestone in the fight against organised crime.”

The ABF remains an integral partner agency of the CACT by providing the skills and expertise towards complex investigations on Transnational Serious Organised Crime groups seeking to exploit international trade to mask their illicit cross-border activities.

ABF Commander Penny Spies said the CACT had changed the landscape for all law enforcement agencies in Australia, including the ABF in its role protecting our most critical strategic national asset - the Australian border.

“The ABF is tremendously proud to contribute to the significant achievements of the CACT, and has benefited greatly from its work,” Commander Spies said.

“The impact the CACT has had on criminal syndicates is evident by the success at this $1billion milestone, and the ABF will continue to partner with our law enforcement colleagues to remove the profits of crime from criminal groups.”

ATO Assistant Commissioner Ash Khera said financial crime affected all Australians, robbing them of funding for essential services such as health and education.

“Outcomes from the CACT are a significant blow to those who attempt to profit from serious and organised crime, made possible thanks to the coordinated and integrated approach of all agencies involved,” Assistant Commissioner Khera said.

While the CACT litigates matters in the courts, restrained assets are managed on behalf of the Commonwealth by the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA). At the conclusion of successful legal proceedings, confiscated assets are then liquidated by AFSA, with the proceeds placed in the Commonwealth Confiscated Assets Account (CAA).

Funds in the CAA are then redistributed by the Attorney-General into many and varied crime prevention and law enforcement related measures, including those dealing with child protection and online child safety, illicit drugs, community safety programs, and a national DNA program for unidentified and missing persons.

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