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Source: Australian Federal Police

Victoria and Tasmania based Australian Federal Police (AFP) members have remained relentless in their pursuit of crime throughout 2020. Undeterred by the global COVID-19 pandemic, teams have contended with record breaking liquid meth hauls, illicit drugs hidden in adult sex toys, complex fraud syndicates and more in their pursuit to keep the community safe.

From January 2020, investigators across the two southern states seized more than seven tonnes of illicit drugs, proving COVID-19 border restrictions did not deter criminal groups from trying to profit from the harm drugs cause in the community.

In June, 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Australia’s borders closed and travel restricted, investigators seized approximately 360 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, enough to supply Melbourne with 3.6 million drug hits.

The investigation, codenamed Operation Tiridates, resulted in the arrest of three men including one Australian and two Malaysian nationals.

An estimated $180 million dollars’ worth of methamphetamine was hidden in a shipping container of furniture. 

AFP Assistant Commissioner Southern Command Bruce Giles at the time said the seizure should serve as a warning that the AFP would continue to double-down on organised crime, working harder to outsmart the criminal networks in order to dismantle and prosecute them regardless of the pandemic.

This was reaffirmed in November 2020, when an AFP-led investigation, codenamed Operation Zeelandia, resulted in a Victorian record breaking seizure of more than 560 kilograms of liquid methamphetamine. 

Four members of an alleged transnational criminal syndicate were arrested over the haul, estimated to be worth more than $123 million dollars, hidden in bottles of mustard. 

Meanwhile, cyberspace still proved a fertile ground for criminal activity.

AFP Melbourne Cybercrime investigators took the fight online when in September 2020, more than 12 months of work led to the arrest of two men in Sydney for their alleged involvement in an Australian-based fraud syndicate working to steal identities and money from thousands of Australians through a sophisticated SMS phishing scheme.

Alongside record breaking illicit drug operations complex cybercrime investigations and – the AFP had to contend with the number of online child exploitation cases skyrocketing during lockdown.

The Victorian and Tasmania Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Teams (JACETs), comprising of AFP and Tasmania and Victoria Police members, laid a significant number of charges against individuals seeking to benefit from the horrific exploitation of children both in Australia and abroad. Over the year, from 1 January 2020, the Victorian JACET arrested 25 individuals and laid 608 charges and the Tasmanian JACET arrested eight people and laid 18 charges.

One of these occurred in September 2020, when the AFP Victorian JACET charged a 23-year-old Sri Lankan national living in Melbourne with child abuse material offences.

The man accused of coercing young girls into sending explicit images and videos of themselves before distributing the content to their family and friends as punishment for failing to send more. 

Assistant Commissioner Giles said the operation highlighted the AFP’s commitment to protecting the innocence of vulnerable children.

“Throughout the challenging year of 2020 – I am proud of our members who, alongside our law enforcement partners, overcame unprecedented obstacles to respond to new and emerging threats to shield the community from the misery caused by child exploitation.” 

Even as COVID-19 forced the closure of borders and restricted movement, one man in Tasmania faced court in November after AFP Tasmania investigators charged him with a range of criminal offences, including the alleged possession of a genuine Australian passport bearing his photo, but a false name.

“The men of women of the AFP in Victoria and Tasmania have shown their absolute professionalism and drive to make life as tough as possible for criminals,” Assistant Commissioner Giles said

“We charged a Melbourne man with a preparing for a foreign interference offence – the first time someone has been charged with the offence since the Commonwealth Parliament passed the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill in 2018.”

“Among those charged have also included individuals and alleged organised syndicates accused of fraudulently claiming National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and Childcare Subsidy Payments.”

“With so many Australians doing it tough – but doing the right thing – it is more important than ever that we seek out and prosecute those who heap the burden of crime on the public. He said.

“Victorians and Tasmanians should rest a little easier this Christmas season in the knowledge that the AFP will not take a holiday from its pursuit to stay a step ahead of anyone seeking to prey on the exceptional community in these states.”

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. 

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