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Source: Australian Federal Police

The Australian Federal Police has revealed child exploitation and organised crime cases have dominated the 2020 landscape for its Northern Command investigators, following the release of national data for the law enforcement agency.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Northern Command Lesa Gale said COVID-19 may have closed borders and restricted movement in Queensland and the Northern Territory, but it did not stop the AFP’s investigations or capacity to target criminals.

“On the frontline of our pursuit to identify and stop child sex offenders from harming our children is the AFP led-Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE),” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

In October, the year-long Operation Molto led by the ACCCE was announced, with 44 Australian men charged and 16 children removed from harm. In Queensland, 11 men were arrested, facing 144 charges and two children were removed from harm.

“COVID-19 created a perfect storm for online child exploitation with perpetrators having more opportunities to access and share this abhorrent material, as well as target children and young people spending an increasing amount of time online,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

The ACCCE throughout this year examined and triaged thousands of child exploitation reports, resulting in the arrests of 130 alleged child sex offenders on 1,101 charges between 9 March and 28 September this year. This is an increase since 2019, where in that same period 57 offenders faced 673 charges.

“The commitment of our members was not restricted to child protection investigations, but spanned across all crime types,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

AFP Northern Command officers arrested 75 people linked to drug investigations this year and stopped approximately 900 kilograms of illicit drugs from reaching our communities.

Operation Weathers in August saw AFP Northern Command officers with their policing partners dismantle a criminal syndicate allegedly conspiring to import over 500 kilograms of cocaine into Australia via a light aircraft. Five men were arrested in Queensland and Victoria, with the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) restraining approximately $3.5 million worth of assets connected to the investigation.

“Criminal groups often underestimate the reach and close collaboration the AFP has with its domestic and international partners. Our dedicated officers rarely work alone, particularly when targeting organised criminal groups and drug traffickers.

“This year has demonstrated the fraught attempts criminals take to import dangerous substances into our communities, and all to line their pockets, with not regard for the harm they cause,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

Earlier this month, AFP Northern Command officers with their law enforcement partners here and in the United Kingdom coordinated an operation resulting in the arrest of five men across two countries, for their alleged involvement in a shipment of almost 450 kilograms of MDMA concealed in an excavator. It is alleged the men arrested as part of Operation Centinel North Hart tried to avoid detection by not only hiding the drugs in such large machinery, but also sending the excavator to an auction house after it was imported in an attempt to legitimize the operation.

“Organised criminal groups will try every which way to make money, but 2020 has proven our investigators are adaptable and resilient in the face of such challenging circumstances as COVID-19, continuing to stay one step ahead of these syndicates looking to cause harm to our communities,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

The AFP’s Northern Command encompasses the state of Queensland and part of the Northern Territory north of the town of Katherine. Northern Command Headquarters is located in Newstead, Brisbane, with other command offices located in Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Gold Coast and on Thursday Island. The Assistant Commissioner of Northern Command also has responsibility for the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).

Note to media:

The statistics outlined in this media release are from 1 January 2020 to 1 December 2020.

Vision of the operational examples can be accessed via the below hightail links.

Operation Molto vision released in October.

Operation Weather vision from August.

Operation Centinel North Hart vision and stills.

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