Australian police revealed yesterday they had cracked a major global money-laundering ring with operatives in more than 20 countries and funds siphoned off to groups reported to include Hezbollah.
The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) said more than A$580 million (HK$4 billion) in drugs and assets had been seized, including A$26 million in cash, in a year-long sting codenamed Eligo targeting the offshore laundering of funds generated by outlaw motorcycle gangs, people-smugglers and others.
According to the ACC, the operation had disrupted 18 serious and organised crime groups and singled out 128 individuals of interest in more than 20 countries, tapping information from agencies including the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
The full details of which countries had been involved were not revealed but acting ACC chief Paul Jevtovic said: "The Middle East and Southeast Asia have featured prominently.
"Drug importations into Australia continue to be the main profit source by organised crime here in this country, but there is a range of other things, serious organised investment frauds, identity theft."
Eligo saw 105 people arrested on 190 separate charges and resulted in the closure of three major clandestine methamphetamine labs and Australia's largest-ever urban hydroponic cannabis hothouse in Sydney last November.
A Fairfax media exposé on the operation found criminals targeted foreign nationals and students in Australia awaiting remittances from overseas, hijacking the transaction by depositing dirty money to the payee and then taking the cash wired from offshore.
Fairfax said at least one of the exchange houses used in the Middle East and Asia delivered a cut from every dollar it laundered to Lebanon's powerful Shiite movement and Syrian ally Hezbollah, which is banned as a terrorist organisation in Australia.
Eligo netted a record A$5.7 million single cash seizure in Sydney at the weekend - seven suitcases stuffed with bills uncovered in an apartment near the city's airport.