AFP locks up more WA criminals despite pandemic lockdowns

The Australian Federal Police kept busy locking up criminals even during pandemic lockdowns, with new data showing officers in Western Australia laid almost three times as many charges in 2020 than the previous year.

Despite COVID-19 closing borders and restricting movement, it did not limit AFP Western Command’s drive or capacity to keep the community safe, by outsmarting offenders who attempted to import drugs, target children or tried to exploit Government support payments.

“We make no apologies for making life as tough as possible for criminals – we will seize their drugs, we will take their illicit assets and we will make sure they can no longer prey on our community,” Western-Central Command Assistant Commissioner Chris Craner said.

In Western Command, the AFP has charged 52 people with 278 offences between 1 January and 15 December 2020, up from the 48 people on 101 charges during 2019.

“While we can celebrate our increased numbers in certain crime types, other times it highlights more victims – and the abuse and exploitation of children is something that is heartbreaking,” Assistant Commissioner Craner said.

“However, it is pleasing that we charged more people for child exploitation offences this year and we will never give up our fight to keep children safe. “We also urge families to remain vigilant about their children’s online activities these school holidays.”

COVID-19 created a perfect storm for online child exploitation, with perpetrators having more opportunities to access and share horrific content, as well as to target children and young people who were spending an increasing amount of time online.

The AFP’s dedicated child protection officers – who form the WA Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team with WA Police – worked tirelessly to expose offenders and charged 20 people with 229 child abuse-related offences this year.

Among them is a 25-year-old WA man accused of the alleged online ‘sextortion’ of 112 girls in various countries.

He allegedly posed as a teenage social media celebrity to befriend girls, before coercing or blackmailing them into performing sexual acts on camera, threatening to distribute the recorded content to their families and friends if they did not give him more.

AFP investigators have spent months piecing together screen shots and information stored on the accused man’s electronic devices to collate evidence for a prosecution, and more charges may be laid.

“This investigation also demonstrates the strength of the AFP’s international networks and partnerships, with the investigation sparked by reports about the man’s alleged behaviour from the United States’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Interpol,” Assistant Commissioner Craner said.

Both agencies have continued to assist the AFP as officers gather evidence.

“Criminal groups often forget the reach and close collaboration the AFP has with its domestic and international partners,” Assistant Commissioner Craner said.

“Our dedicated officers are rarely working alone, particularly when targeting child sex offenders or drug traffickers.”

Strong partnerships have enabled police to thwart drug importations – from several large multi-kilo importations at ports on the eastern seaboard, to smaller amounts hidden in mail or carried by couriers into all states.

In WA alone, the AFP and our partners have stopped more than 353 kilograms of illicit drugs reaching our streets this year and causing harm.

“Traffickers have tried everything to get drugs into WA, including hiding less than 100 grams in birthday cards and food containers to two kilograms in handbags. But they should not think importing small amounts will enable them to avoid scrutiny,” Assistant Commissioner Craner said.

“Combined, these can equate to thousands of individual street deals and cause immense harm.

“Anyone who is thinking of importing drugs needs to be warned they can face 25 years’ imprisonment if caught with more than 2g of methamphetamine and we are seeing people receive substantial jail terms for this offending.

“Along with seizing these harmful drugs, a key AFP strategy to combat organized crime is to strip criminals of the proceeds of drug sales.

“It ensures they cannot use the money to buy more drugs or enjoy lavish lifestyles at our community’s expense.

“In recent months, our officers in WA have seized more than $8 million cash and assets that are suspected to be the proceeds of crime. “It is satisfying to take illegal wealth away from criminals and know that we are helping to ensure the funds will be re-distributed to support community initiatives.”

Assistant Commissioner Craner said the increased investigative results for 2020 were achieved while WA members were also supporting State authorities here and in the Northern Territory to enforce border restrictions and prevent the spread of the virus.

“I want to assure the community that we will be maintaining our pressure on criminal activity in 2021,” Assistant Commissioner Craner said.

“Next year, I also plan to focus on the health of our members to make sure they are in the best condition to do the often difficult work they do to protect the public and I want to engage more with our communities.

“The AFP does such a variety of work around the world to protect Australians – from counter-terrorism and foreign interference to child protection, drug trafficking and fraud – and I want to be more open about what we do, so people can better understand our role.

“I’d like to invite business leaders, representatives of our diverse multicultural communities and children to be AFP officers for the day, and I think that personal insight will increase awareness and support for the AFP.”

Additional Operational Outcomes in 2020:

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