1 August 2022

Eight Canberra properties, vehicles, cash among assets frozen in money laundering investigation

| Claire Fenwicke
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man being arrested

A 35-year-old man based in Canberra was arrested and charged as part of an international money laundering investigation. Photo: AFP Media.

More than $10 million worth of assets have been frozen and an ACT-based man charged as part of an international money laundering investigation.

The assets restrained by the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT) include eight Canberra properties, four high-end vehicles, luxury goods, cash and cryptocurrencies.

Search warrants were executed on two homes and a storage unit in Canberra on Thursday (28 July), where officers seized more than $1.5 million in cash hidden in one house. Documents and electronic devices were also examined and seized for further forensic investigation.

A 35-year-old man was charged with one count of dealing with property reasonably suspected of being proceeds of crime ($100,000 or more), which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.

He was granted bail to front court again at a later date where the AFP would allege he used “sophisticated transactions” to launder cash and cryptocurrency from the sale of stolen personal identification information and illegal goods, along with the proceeds from fraudulent scams and illegal online gambling.

It would also be alleged that the man had a “significant” number of assets suspected to be the proceeds of crime, including eight properties, four luxury cars worth more than $800,000, 28 bank accounts and about $600,000 in cryptocurrency.

The search warrants, seizures and arrest were part of Operation Nairana, which began in late 2020 when the FBI and the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as part of the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement (J5), reported an Australian-based person was allegedly using cryptocurrency to launder money.

AFP Acting Commander Scott Raven said money laundering was a threat to Australia’s economy and national security.

“Money laundering is also heavily used to fund further criminal activities that impact our community’s safety,” he said.

“The AFP has a unique ability to disrupt groups suspected of criminal activity where it hurts them the most, seizing their profits and preventing them from using those funds in future ventures.

“This case demonstrates that the AFP will be relentless in pursuing those allegedly involved in global money laundering activities, to ensure that those suspected of dealing in the proceeds of crime cannot enjoy the benefits of their illicitly obtained wealth.”

Chief of IRS Criminal Investigation and the J5 Chief from the US Chief Jim Lee said the days of cryptocurrency being used to “anonymously move money for illicit activities are over”.

“The J5 exists for cases just like this where international partnerships can bring successful investigative outcomes, preventing our jurisdictions from being used as havens for criminal activity.”

FBI Legal Attaché Nitiana Mann said the FBI prioritised domestic and international partnerships to combat money laundering worldwide.

“It is because of our collaboration with law enforcement and intelligence partners that outcomes like this continue to exemplify our commitment to protect the integrity of our financial systems,” she said.

The CACT consisted of the resources and expertise of the AFP, Australian Taxation Office, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, AUSTRAC and Australian Border Force to trace, restrain and confiscate criminal assets.

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