Mr Ryan’s comments are at odds with a recent pledge by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said his government “will make sure that [the AFP are] resourced to do their job”.
Mr Morrison made the comments on June 8, when the AFP and the federal government held a press conference to highlight the stunning results of Ironside, a three-year probe in which criminals unknowingly distributed encrypted phones that relayed their private communications to police. The operation has led to hundreds of arrests and multi-tonne drug seizures around the globe.
Mr Ryan’s comments, recorded by the Lowy Institute for a special podcast, are unusual because senior police are often at pains not to cross over government messaging that border security and resourcing are adequate. But Mr Ryan warned that, left unchecked, organised crime would continue to corrupt parts of the economy and lead to huge costs, including in the health sector.
“The effects and the outcomes of organised crime are very, very significant … look at the integrity of our institutions, particularly legitimate supply chains.”
Also this week, one serving and one former Dubai National Air Travel Agency employee were arrested on Wednesday. Another four were charged earlier this year.
In a statement, federal police alleged the six had planned to import drugs into Australia “within a cargo box in the hold of a commercial aircraft on 7 March 2020”. The suspected importation never occurred, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the AFP has also linked the group to a 38-kilogram methamphetamine importation into Sydney via an Air Canada flight in March 2019.
The arrests are the work of a new AFP aviation crime targeting team, launched in June. That same month, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes revealed new evidence of the organised crime infiltration of Qantas and other major airport and waterfront companies.
AFP Detective Inspector Scott Sykes said the AFP was continuing to sift through the leads produced by Operation Ironside, “increasingly focusing on targeting trusted insiders working in Australia’s busiest airport”.
Mr Ryan’s warnings about the scale and impact of organised crime, and its ability to corrupt businesses and organisations, were mirrored in June by the head of Australia’s peak criminal intelligence agency, Mike Phelan.
Mr Phelan, who heads the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, warned that Australia’s most dangerous and wanted crime bosses had organised themselves into a cartel earning an estimated $1.5 billion a year. He also said the “Aussie Cartel” was smuggling drugs past the nation’s borders with the help of corrupt government officials and border insiders.
One of the nine men designated cartel leaders by the commission is Hakan Ayik, who remains on the run after he unwittingly became a distributor of the communications platform that was secretly set up and controlled by police as part of Operation Ironside. Another alleged member of the Aussie Cartel is Hakan Arif, who was previously arrested in Dubai as part of an AFP drug importation investigation but fled while on bail. Both Ayik and Arif are believed to be hiding out in Turkey.
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