Luxury cars and watches seized as AFP raids syndicate operating ‘in plain sight’

The money laundering syndicate operated out of 'shiny shop fronts' across Australia.

The money laundering syndicate operated out of 'shiny shop fronts' across Australia. Photo: AFP

Australian Federal Police have smashed a major money laundering syndicate that was operating “in plain sight” and funnelling billions of dollars.

Officers reportedly seized $50 million worth of luxury cars and other high-end products such as Rolex watches during raids on Wednesday.

The raids involved hundreds of officers across Australia with 20 search warrants in every mainland state under AFP-led Operation Avarus-Nightwolf..

The crime gang was allegedly laundering money through the Changjiang Currency Exchange, which has 12 outlets in every Australian state.

The Daily Telegraph reports the group, known in the underworld as Long River, turned over $10 billion in three years, allegedly with the help of insiders at major banks.

Federal police say that while most transactions through the exchange were lawful, the company also had a system that allowed organised criminals to secretly transfer money in and out of Australia. The AFP alleges the amount of money laundered between 2020-2023 was $228,883,561.

Police began their 14-month-long investigation when they noticed the currency exchange expanding during COVID lockdowns, particularly in Sydney.

“During COVID-19, AFP members were still coming into work, and while most of Sydney was a ghost town, alarm bells went off among our money-laundering investigators when they noticed Changjiang Currency Exchange opened and updated new and existing shopfronts in the heart of Sydney,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dametto said.

“It was just a gut feeling – it didn’t feel right. Many international students and tourists had returned home, and there was no apparent business case for Changjiang Currency Exchange to expand.”

Officers swarmed homes and offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth early on Wednesday.

Seven people were arrested – four Chinese nationals and three Australian citizens. They have have been charged for their alleged involvement in the syndicate and are expected to appear in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.

money laundering raids

A man is arrested in Balwyn, in Melbourne’s east, in Wednesday’s raids. Photo: AFP

Those charged are all from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. They are a two men from Balwyn, both aged 37, a 38-year-old Balwyn woman, a man and woman (both 35) from Kew, a 40-year-old Glen Iris man and a 33-year-old woman from Vermont.

Changjiang Currency Exchange, is also now subject to regulatory action by Australia’s currency monitor AUSTRAC.

Dametto said the investigation was unique and complex because the crime gang was “operating in plain sight” with shiny shop fronts across the country.

“It was not operating in the shadows like other money laundering organisations,” he said.

He said the laundering organisation “entrenched itself into the very fabric of the financial services industry”.

It became “one of the largest independently owned remitters in the country,” he said.

The AFP will allege syndicate members were able to amass a significant amount of illegal wealth from their criminal activity.

“We allege they lived the high life by eating at Australia’s most extravagant restaurants, drinking wine and sake valued in the tens of thousands of dollars, travelling on private jets, driving vehicles purchased for $400,000 and living in expensive homes, with one valued at more than $10 million,” Dametto said.

-with AAP

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