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Hounslow arrests: £250k gold bullion seized in connection to Australia Anom

Heathrow to Sydney Airport

Three people have been arrested by the National Crime Agency as part of a major international investigation into the exportation of cocaine from the UK to Australia.

A woman aged 56 and a man aged 32 were detained by NCA officers at an address in Hanwell, west London on Monday 21 June. Meanwhile at the same time a 31-year-old woman was arrested at a location in Hounslow.

All three were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to export class A drugs, fraud and breaches of the Aviation Security Act.

At the address in Hanwell gold bullion thought to be worth in excess of £250,000 was also seized, along with keys to a safety deposit box containing £60,000 in cash.

The trio were questioned and released under investigation the next day.

Drug importations

The arrests followed a seizure of around 500 kilos of cocaine at Sydney Airport on 15 May.

Australian Border Force officers found the drugs concealed in a consignment described as ‘lift and tailgate parts’ which had been shipped from Heathrow using a UK freight agent.

They estimate the drugs would have had a potential street value of around £84 million.

New South Wales Police Force Organised Crime Squad detectives subsequently arrested three people in connection with their investigation into the importation on 18 May.

Intercepted

NCA investigators have been able to identify a number of other similar shipments made from the UK to Australia using a similar method. These are now under investigation.

NCA Branch Commander Andy Noyes said:

“Our investigation is looking at a sophisticated network of criminals able to smuggle large quantities of class A drugs across the globe via air freight.

“Some of those involved appeared to have insider knowledge of freight systems which they exploited. Protecting the safety and security of the UK is a priority for us.

“Working through our overseas network with our partners in Australia and at home in the UK we are determined to do all we can to track down those involved, and our investigation will continue.”

Mark Bishop, Head of Asia Pacific region for NCA International, added:

“I’m grateful for the continued cooperation and support of Australian Border Force and the New South Wales Police Force on this investigation.

“This partnership is vital to tackle international serious and organised crime affecting both our countries.”

Australia Anom arrests

A man and a woman have been charged following an investigation spanning more than two years into employees of an airport ground services provider allegedly involved in drug trafficking at Sydney Airport.

In March 2019, an investigation resulted in the arrest of 2 people responsible for importing kilos into Sydney via an Air Canada flight.

Following the initial arrests, the AFP Sydney Aviation Investigations Team identified a man suspected of acting as an overseer of the importation within the airport precinct. Police will allege the man used an encrypted device and a ‘burner’ phone to communicate with an extended criminal syndicate.

AFP intelligence from Operation Ironside revealed this syndicate had commenced planning another importation through Sydney Airport in late 2019. Police will allege this new syndicate consisted of people with trusted insider access at the airport, who used encrypted devices to communicate.

Financial analysis by investigators in relation to a 31-year-old Liverpool man and a 35-year-old Liverpool woman revealed they had allegedly dealt with approximately $600,000, suspected to be the proceeds of crime.

The Anom App arrests

According to the AFP, intelligence gathered from the decrypted messages led to the arrest of 224 suspects on more than 500 charges and the seizure of 3.7 metric tons of drugs and nearly $35 million in cash over the past three years in Australia. A number of those charged are allegedly linked to Australian-based Italian mafia, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Asian crime syndicates and Albanian organized crime. “Operation Ironside,” as the investigation was named, began three years ago as a collaboration between several global law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the AFP, New Zealand police and Europol.
Handout images from the Australian Federal Police show arrests and seizures made under Operation Ironside.

Prevented Murders

The Australian Federal Police arrest and seize drugs and cash under Operation Ironside.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said multiple criminal plots were also foiled thanks to law enforcement access to the app.
 
These included a planned mass shooting at an Australian suburban cafe and the assassination of a family of five.
 
ANoM could only be found on phones bought through the black market, which had been stripped of the capability to make calls or send emails, according to the AFP.
 
The phones could only send messages to another device that had the app and criminals needed to know another criminal to get a device.
 
“The devices organically circulated and grew in popularity among criminals, who were confident of the legitimacy of the app because high-profile organized crime figures vouched for its integrity,” the AFP statement said.

Monitored communications

Unknown to the app’s users, the FBI had access to the app and its communications, which the organization then used to collect information on criminal operations.
 
According to court documents released by the US government on Tuesday, the ANoM was given to San Diego FBI agents by a developer who had created it to compete on the market for encrypted communications platforms.
 
The developer, whose identity is not revealed, offered it to help the FBI with its ongoing investigations, in return for a reduced sentence on charges he was facing.
 
In May 2021, the top five countries where ANoM devices were used were Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, and Serbia, according to the documents.
 
Kershaw said the criminals didn’t use codes or pseudonyms on ANoM, brazenly discussing crimes in the mistaken confidence their communications were safe.
 
The Australian Federal Police and other international law enforcement agencies seized tonnes of drugs and millions of dollars in cash as part of Operation Ironside.

 

Results

“Essentially, we have been in the back pockets of organized crime and operationalized a criminal takedown like we have never seen,” Kershaw said.
 
“The use of encrypted communication apps presents significant challenges to law enforcement and ANoM has given law enforcement a window into the level of criminality that we have never seen before on this scale.”
 
Hundreds of arrests and tons of drugs were also seized overseas as a result of the operation, the AFP said, but didn’t specify where.
 
Police also seized assets in Australia which authorities estimated would be worth millions of dollars once they were sold.
 
In total over the course of the three years, more than 9,000 police officers across 18 countries were involved in maintaining the operation.
 
The AFP said more arrests are expected in Australia and overseas as a result of the operation.
 
Kershaw added there were other, larger encrypted communication apps which police were working to access.
 

 

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