SYDNEY: Australian police revealed Thursday they had cracked a major global money-laundering ring with operatives in more than 20 countries and funds syphoned off to groups reported to include Hezbollah.
The Australian Crime Commission said more than AUS $580 million ($512 million) of drugs and assets had been seized, including AUS $26 million in cash, in a yearlong sting code-named Eligo targeting the offshore laundering of funds generated by outlaw motorcycle gangs, people smugglers and others.
According to the ACC, the operation disrupted 18 serious organized crime groups and singled out 128 individuals of interest in over 20 countries, tapping information from agencies including the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
The full details of which countries had been involved were not revealed, but acting ACC chief Paul Jevtovic said, “The reality is that the Middle East and Southeast Asia have featured prominently.”
Eligo saw 105 people arrested on 190 separate charges and resulted in the closure of three major clandestine methamphetamine labs and Australia’s largest-ever urban hydroponic cannabis hothouse in Sydney.
It was described as “one of the most successful money-laundering investigations in Australian law enforcement history” by the ACC.
Legitimate international cash wiring services were a major focus of the operation, with the government’s anti-laundering agency AUSTRAC saying they had been identified as at “high risk of being exploited by serious and organized crime groups.”
A Fairfax media expose said at least one of the exchange houses used in the Middle East and Asia delivered a cut from every dollar it laundered to Hezbollah, which is banned as a terrorist organization in Australia.
The ACC is also monitoring the use of Bitcoin, a so-called virtual cryptocurrency generated by a complex computer algorithm.
Bitcoin made headlines last year when U.S. authorities closed the Silk Road website after the currency was found being used to buy illegal drugs, forged documents, hacker tools and even the services of hit men.
Profits from transnational organized crime were estimated at $870 billion in 2009 – the latest available data – according to the ACC’s 2013 report into the sector.