Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Police raids strike at people-smuggling rings - The Australian

AUSTRALIAN Federal Police have arrested five alleged people-smugglers - four of whom arrived in Australia on boats - in a series of raids across the country this morning.

AFP Assistant Commission Steve Lancaster said the operation had dealt a major blow to people-smuggling into Australia, and it was likely that more arrests would follow.

Three Afghan nationals, one Pakistani and an Iranian were arrested in raids in Victoria, NSW, Western Australia and South Australia.

They are alleged to have been major players in people-smuggling syndicates involved in organising 132 boat voyages.

Assistant Commissioner Lancaster said people-smugglers not picked up in the "first scoop" today should be aware they might still be arrested.

"It does not mean you should sleep well tonight," he said.

Mr Lancaster thanked and praised The Australian for cooperating with police carrying out the investigations by delaying until today publication of information the newspaper held.

He said the newspaper story published today did not threaten police investigations.

The search warrants executed today as part of Operation Delphinium followed a 12-month investigation targeting domestic players in people-smuggling syndicates.

The Australian reported this morning the five targeted for arrest were among at least 20 suspected people-smugglers in the AFP's sights.

If charged and convicted, they face jail terms of up to 10 years.

The operation is the culmination of a number of AFP investigations and has been one of the force's highest priorities, involving more than 100 officers and about 200 interviews in asylum-seeker communities across the country.

Four of the five men arrested arrived in Australia by boat after allegedly being actively involved in people-smuggling in source and transit countries including Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia.

Police will allege their activities took place while in Indonesia, although there are suspicions some of the men may have continued their people-smuggling activities after their arrival in Australia.

It is understood police will allege the men were actively involved in several aspects of the smuggling trade while overseas. Their activities are thought to have included transporting asylum-seekers to drop-off points, collecting and transferring money, and recruiting customers.

They are understood to have charged between $4000 and $10,000 for a ticket to Australia, with some asylum-seekers being told they could expect "private cabins" for their voyage.

About one third are understood to have supplied formal statements, which will provide the bedrock for the people smuggling charges the AFP is expected to lay.

The men are expected to be charged with people-smuggling offences under the Migration Act, with a potential penalty of up to 10 years in jail.

In addition to formal statements, investigators are understood to have obtained a trove of intelligence from asylum-seekers, providing insight into how smuggling syndicates operate. The Australian understands this intelligence will assist other people-smuggling investigations. It is believed there are more than 20 other active investigations into people-smugglers underway.

One of the most striking changes in the smuggling trade has been the breakdown of the traditional syndicate structure.

Instead of operating as a discrete cell, smugglers have more recently become more opportunistic, working with other syndicates, trading passengers and working with a variety of contacts to organise boats to Australia.

Additional reporting: Cameron Stewart, Paul Maley
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