Expats unwittingly recruited as drug mules for organised crime

The Australian Federal Police is warning the community, particularly members of the Iranian community, over the dangers of unsolicited job offers to receive and store international packages, following a spate of illicit drug imports linked to organised crime.

The AFP has seen an increasing number of Iranian expats living in Australia being targeted by the scheme that recruits innocent people who believe they are working for a legitimate business. Other innocent community members may also have been approached.

AFP Commander Investigations Todd Hunter said the trend had emerged in Victoria in recent years and was likely occurring across the country, with some members of the Iranian community unwittingly receiving methamphetamine imports distributed by alleged Middle Eastern organised crime syndicates.

The scheme has seen strangers contacting Iranian expats known to be living in Australia, along with victims being targeted by distant acquaintances and relatives in Iran.

“We are aware of a growing pattern where an overseas recruiter will target and contact an Iranian expat living in Australia over social media to offer them employment distributing goods such as car polish, picture frames and decorative stones from Iran,” he said.

“Members of the community targeted by the criminal syndicate are offered lucrative pay for receiving and storing a package at their home, before it is collected by another unknown person, who is allegedly connected to the criminal syndicate distributing the illicit drugs.”

“We are warning members of the community to be vigilant to these schemes. Receiving a substantial payment for the simple task of receiving goods and passing them along should raise alarm bells – if the job opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Commander Hunter said.

“Importing and possession of border controlled drugs are Commonwealth offences and can result in criminal prosecution which can lead to penalties of up to life imprisonment. We want to ensure innocent people are not caught up in the work of criminal syndicates through these illicit schemes.”

Acting ABF Commander Nick Walker said Organised Crime Groups will use different methodologies to further illicit activity, including exploiting loose social connections to recruit unsuspecting victims.

“In the same way that travellers should not carry items for other people, less well known is the danger associated with receiving goods on behalf of others. The Australian Border Force has robust drug detection capabilities, and can intercept drugs at the border, or in consignments sent through mail.”

Members of the community with information relating to drug imports can contact CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000 or by visiting crimestoppers.com.au.

CASE STUDY:

  • In June, 2018, a 52 year old Melbourne man was contacted over Whatsapp by a former Iranian religious leader residing in the Middle-East.
  • The man offered the Iranian expat living in Australia a job opportunity to distribute Iranian agricultural products for sale in Australia.
  • The man soon informed the expat that he would be sent a consignment of car polish and someone would make contact to collect it from him.
  • Several similar shipments arrived over a number of months and were each collected by strangers.
  • The Iranian expat was paid several hundred dollars on each occasion.
  • Australian Border Force (ABF) officers intercepted a car polish package sent to the man and confirmed it contained 2.5 kilograms of liquid methamphetamine.
  • The AFP then executed a search warrant at the man’s property and he was interviewed in relation to the matter before being released without charge after extensive investigations.
  • The investigation led to arrests in connection to the scheme overseas.

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