Australia customs upheaval over Sydney airport graft

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 11:47am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 12:07pm


Australia announced an overhaul of its customs service on Thursday after eight people were arrested in a corruption investigation linked to an alleged drugs ring at Sydney airport.

“I am working on major structural and cultural reforms to Customs and will announce them next year,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said.

“There is no place for corruption in our law enforcement agencies. Where it exists we have to weed it out.”

The move follows the recent arrests of a customs officer, another from the quarantine service and six members of the public after a two-year probe. They have been charged with a range of offences including drug trafficking, receiving bribes and abuse of public office.

Police said the inquiry was continuing amid allegations that an “entrenched network” of corrupt customs officers at Sydney airport have been working with organised crime figures to import drugs.

A six-month investigation by Fairfax Media and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said up to 20 officials were suspected of being involved in importing pseudoephedrine, cocaine, steroids and possibly weapons.

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service acting chief Michael Pezzullo said he was disappointed but not surprised by the revelations.

“We identified that we had a potential problem at Sydney International Airport and took appropriate investigative activity. This action continues,” he said.

“We will review as required the role of workplace culture, management and leadership and take all necessary action to ensure the integrity of our workforce.”

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus claimed that couriers were sent overseas to collect drugs before returning through customs with the help of people in “trusted positions”.

“What has been alleged before the court so far is that the customs officers involved in this would meet drug couriers off a plane,” he said.

“They would then walk them through the primary line of customs, and then out into the waiting halls.”

He added that it would also be alleged that customs officials “played a role in organising the couriers themselves to go overseas and to actually facilitate their collection of the narcotics overseas”.