Australian Federal Police make national and state firsts in a challenging year

From the first arrest for possessing a child-like sex doll in South Australia to the first restraint of a child sex offender’s home nationally, 2020 has seen the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) Central Command overcome COVID-19 operational challenges to keep the community safe and put criminal offenders before the courts.

AFP Central Command, which encompasses South Australia and up to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, seized 232.84 kilograms of illicit drugs in 2020 and charged 21 offenders with 51 offences across a range of different crime types, including drug importation, child exploitation and fraud.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Western-Central Command Chris Craner said these investigative results were achieved while many members were supporting State authorities to protect residents in South Australia and Alice Springs from the COVID-19 virus, including by enforcing border restrictions.

In a state first, the South Australia Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (SA JACET) charged a 30-year-old man with possessing a child-like sex doll under new Commonwealth laws introduced in September 2019 targeting child abuse related offences.

The SA JACET, which consists of investigators from the AFP and South Australia Police, launched an investigation in January after receiving intelligence from New South Wales Police and AUSTRAC, with the support of PayPal Australia.

The man is accused of purchasing the doll online from China and investigators also allegedly found child abuse material on electronic devices he owned when he was arrested.

Assistant Commissioner Craner said the dolls were not a ‘safer option’ for use by child sex offenders, as the dolls objectify children as sexual beings and can desensitise anyone who uses them to the physical, emotional and psychological harm caused by sexual abuse.

“The Australian Federal Police does not condone any form of child exploitation, or activity of any kind that reinforces the sexualisation of children. We are committed to doing everything we can to stop the abuse of children,” he said.

That commitment was shown again when in an Australian first, the AFP-led Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce restrained the home of an accused child sex offender with the aim of confiscating the property and redistributing the proceeds of the sale of the home back into the community.

The matter first came to the attention of the AFP after an Adelaide man was found to have child exploitation material on his phone, following an ABF baggage examination upon his arrival into Melbourne Airport from Singapore in February.

He was charged for possessing illegal content and the matter was referred to the SA JACET. Further charges were laid in April relating to allegedly ordering and instructing the abuse of children overseas, which he allegedly watched online.

This is the first time the AFP has restrained the home of an alleged child sex offender, who is not accused of profiting from his crimes, but of allegedly using his property as an instrument of crime to commit serious offences.

Drug suppliers adapted to the changing travel environment caused by COVID, using the postal service and even allegedly a truck driver with an ‘essential worker status’ as a courier in attempts to smuggle drugs, as well as relying on local production.

Police remained focused on stopping these destructive substances from reaching our communities, with joint investigations by the AFP and SA Police in 2020 resulted in seizures and arrests that included the dismantling of a bunker methylamphetamine lab in May and an alleged cocaine and cannabis smuggling ring in July.

In September, Australian Federal Police officers charged a 46-year-old man over an alleged plot to import 20 kilograms of cocaine into South Australia after a consignment of welding machines was intercepted by the Australian Border Force (ABF).

After x-rays revealed anomalies in the welding machines, ABF officers in South Australia dismantled the shipment to discover 18 packages of cocaine hidden in electronic safes within the two machines, which had been sent from Greece.

AFP officers traced the drugs to a 46-year-old man, who is accused of organising for the consignment to be delivered to his former workplace, without the knowledge of the business owners.

The man faces a potential life jail sentence if convicted of importing a commercial quantity of border controlled drugs.

Assistant Commissioner Craner said Australian law enforcement is united to protect the community by stopping harmful drugs from reaching our streets and preventing criminals from profiting from their illegal activities.

This profit was on display when an AFP investigation into the importation of methamphetamine through the mail system resulted in the arrest of a 31-year-old Adelaide man in February.

The mail imports were detected by ABF officers and referred to the AFP for investigation. Warrants executed on the man’s vehicle and residence uncovered methamphetamine, cocaine and a large quantity of cash.

Further mail consignments destined for the man’s premises were intercepted by ABF and the AFP.

In total, AFP officers seized almost three kilograms of illicit drugs, with an approximate street value of more than $2 million, and more than $125,000 cash. The 31-year-old man was charged with nine offences over the alleged importations and dealing in the proceeds of crime and is due to appear before court again next year.

Along with a busy year operationally, members also focused on engaging and supporting our local communities. In Alice Springs, AFP Protection Operations officers partnered with a local gym to run a successful leadership program for teenagers.

Assistant Commissioner Craner said that despite the challenges the year had brought, the AFP remained as committed as ever to protecting communities across the country.

“I want to reassure residents of South Australia and Alice Springs that no matter the challenges, we are ready to face them head on and ensure that we can continue to deliver these results into 2021,” he 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.”

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