Bikies and triads in waterfront drug conspiracy
ONE of the nation’s biggest investigations into organised crime has exposed an international drug importation syndicate with links to the Comanchero bikie gang, Chinese triads and corrupt Australian officials.
Operation Hoffman, a landmark multi-agency investigation led by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), has also revealed the deep links between drug importers and rogue Australian maritime workers.
A joint investigation by the Herald and ABC TV’s Four Corners into organised crime can also reveal that:
NSW Police have identified a group of drug-importing Sydney port workers with government maritime security guards who have been active since 2004.
In Victoria, authorities have uncovered links between corrupt Melbourne port workers, the Hells Angels and prominent Italian criminals.
Law enforcement agencies in NSW recently updated a list of 150 organised crime organisations that need targeting.
The two-year Operation Hoffman has found multimillion-dollar crime syndicates are operating like multinational enterprises, evading police by drawing on local and overseas resources and the latest technology.
It has led to big ecstasy, heroin and crystal methamphetamine drug busts across Australia, the biggest drug bust in Tonga and the discovery of a bikie armoury, including automatic weapons and imitation police equipment, in May last year. Those arrested include alleged drug runners with links to the Chinese triads and the Perth president of the Comanchero, Steven Milenkovski.
One of Hoffman’s key targets is Hakan Ayik,32, from Sydney, who is understood to have been the local manager of an international drug syndicate with strong links to the triads and which used domestic criminal networks, including bikie gangs, as distributors and to provide muscle.
NSW Police intelligence describes Ayik as a ”very serious money-maker” who ”generates a lot of money” for the Comanchero and has multiple links to waterfront workers.
Operation Hoffman ended this month after NSW Police issued an arrest warrant for Ayik for drug trafficking. It is believed he is on the run.
The crime syndicate Hoffman targeted also has links to an allegedly corrupt NSW Police analyst, Terry Gregoriou, who, as the Herald revealed on Saturday, was charged in December for allegedly leaking police files to the Comanchero.
The syndicate has also cultivated contacts with figures with access to the NSW prison system, including a serving prison officer, to pass money and messages to jailed crime figures.
Hoffman’s success lies in the co-operative efforts of traditionally mistrustful state and federal policing agencies, including the NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police and the anti-money laundering agency Austrac.
But a senior law enforcement insider has revealed that despite its success, inadequate resourcing meant Operation Hoffman was unable to reach its potential. He said the criminal network it targeted would ”reform very, very quickly”. The insider said the ACC needed far more investigators to target the movement of illicit funds overseas, a methodology crucial to Operation Hoffman.
The consensus among senior police is that the ACC is under-resourced given the size and reach of well-resourced underworld figures.
The federal Labor senator Steve Hutchins, who is briefed by senior police as chairman of the ACC parliamentary committee, said that given that big drug seizures did not affect the supply or price of drugs, Australia was clearly not winning the war against drug trafficking.
Simon Overland, the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, said that data supported the view that policing agencies were making only ”a small number of seizures in the total volume of drugs that come across the barrier”.
This view is backed by a former assistant commissioner of the NSW Police, Clive Small, and the former detective inspector who headed Victoria’s Purana taskforce, Jim O’Brien.
“You’d have to be kidding yourself if you thought you were getting any more than probably 10 or 15 per cent off the street,” said Mr O’Brien.
Senator Hutchins called for reforms to combat organised crime on the waterfront. “The law enforcement agencies have been exposing what’s been going on … it’s whether or not we as politicians are prepared to give them the weapons … they need to combat it.”
A state and federal policing taskforce to combat organised crime on the wharves will become fully operational in the next fortnight after delays due to inter-agency negotiations.
The chief executive of the Australian Crime Commission, John Lawler, has championed better co-operation among agencies.
Missing . . . Hakan Ayik with a lingerie-clad companion.