Operation Ironside western: AFP dismantles multiple criminal syndicates operating in WA

Twenty-nine people have been charged, 31 firearms taken from criminals, more than 76 kilograms of illicit drugs intercepted and $9.5 million of alleged criminal cash seized in Western Australia under the Australian Federal Police’s Operation IRONSIDE.

The AFP infiltrated encrypted communications used exclusively by criminals, including those targeting WA, resulting in the arrest of alleged drug trafficking and money laundering facilitators connected to Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMCG) and transnational organised crime networks operating in Australia and offshore.

AFP investigators, forensics specialists and support staff, along with WA Police Force officers, have executed more than 40 warrants in WA since late April 2021 – more than half of them on Monday (7 June).

More arrests are expected across the country and offshore in coming days under a coordinated global response into the monitored criminal groups.

Operation Ironside began almost three years ago and is the Australian component of a world-first covert investigation.

The FBI started running an encrypted communications platform, which was used exclusively by organised crime. The AFP provided the capability to access, decrypt and read communications in almost real time.

It was last year (2020) when the AFP identified the first people using the encrypted platform in WA and in November, investigators seized $6.2 million illicit cash from a Perth ‘safe house’, where it was being stored and packaged.

Two men caught with the cash pleaded guilty to dealing in the proceeds of crime and each face a potential 25 years’ imprisonment when they are sentenced next month (July 2021).

Four other alleged members of the syndicate have been charged this week with various offences, after police found approximately $1.6 million allegedly linked to the group and a handgun at a Morley home.

A WA Perth defence lawyer with alleged criminal links to the Comanchero Outlaw Motorcycle Gang was also charged on Monday over accusations he conspired to obstruct the course of justice.

Other results during the operation include the arrest of nine people by the WA National Anti-Gangs Squad after a crackdown on Outlaw Motorcycle Gang-linked drug distribution and money laundering networks.

Intelligence enabled police to identify so-called ‘dead drops’, where drugs were buried in scrub for collection, as well as to intercept cash handovers.

The AFP in WA will be looking interstate and offshore to extradite the significant offenders behind many of the criminal enterprises identified.

AFP Western Command Assistant Commissioner Chris Craner said law enforcement had monitored millions of text messages on the platform, enabling police to prevent significant harm to the Australian community – including credible threats of violence and threats to life.

“These include plans by OMCG members to shoot, kidnap or bash people who allegedly owed them money, who they feared might expose their criminal activities or who had drugs or cash they wanted to steal,” he said.

“Operation Ironside has further exposed the greed of these criminals – many spoke on the encrypted platform about selling illicit drugs in WA, rather than other states, because of the higher prices they could charge here.

“Thanks to Operation Ironside, we have managed to wipe out criminal syndicates who have tried to flood our streets with those drugs and violence, without any care for the harm they cause.

“This is a very satisfying moment for police – these criminals thought they were communicating in secret but now they will not know what or who to trust.”

Assistant Commissioner Craner said Operation Ironside represented an unprecedented level of collaboration between the AFP and law enforcement agencies across Australia and around the world.

“We want to thank WA Police for their significant support for the operational activity in WA, as well as ACIC, ABF and AUSTRAC,” he said.

He said Operation Ironside had delivered investigative leads for law enforcement that will be followed for months and years to come.

“Operation Ironside should serve as the strongest warning to criminals yet – Australian law enforcement will continue to outsmart organised crime and be relentless in our pursuit of those who seek to harm to our communities.”

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