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THE Australian government authorised more than $10 million in suspected drug funds to be sent offshore in an extraordinary operation that revealed top Asian political and policing officials are involved in a criminal syndicate, according to an intelligence briefing.

The Australian Crime Commission briefing describes a multibillion-dollar international drug and money laundering network that poses ”a significant threat” to  Australia.

Read an edited extract from The Sting: Australia’s plot to crack a global drug empire

The briefing, seen by The Saturday Age, outlines the findings of Operation Dayu, a four-year intelligence investigation into large-scale money laundering and drug trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region. Operation Dayu included the running of an undercover money-laundering operation, a controversial but legal methodology that involved the ACC sending $10.6 million of suspected drug funds offshore to identify overseas crime bosses and their activities.

Operation Dayu, run in partnership with the Australian Federal Police, state agencies and anti-money-laundering agency Austrac, seized drugs worth an estimated $780 million and exposed a triad-led global criminal entity known as the “grandfather syndicate”.

The briefing says the syndicate is responsible for drug imports worth at least $1.2 billion into Australia annually, with some distributed by outlaw bikie gangs.


According to the briefing, Operation Dayu has uncovered intelligence that the grandfather syndicate has achieved “high-level infiltration of government in both law enforcement agencies and political circles” across much of Asia, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

“There are a number of other countries where this is suspected but not apparent to date,” it says.

One example cited in the briefing involves a “high-placed triad associate” of the grandfather syndicate “attending an Interpol conference in New York”.

The findings highlight the extraordinary challenge facing the Australian government and law enforcement agencies as they seek to combat drug importation via the nation’s porous and, according to some police sources, vulnerable or corrupted border security regime.

The grandfather syndicate has its origins in a “triad conglomerate” formed by formerly warring triad groups in Asia a decade ago.

It works much like a multinational company, with operating hubs around the globe that shift with demand and supply. Australia is a significant market for the syndicate because of the huge demand for drugs and the comparatively high prices Australians pay for them. The briefing says: “The pooling of resources of the main triad groups has allowed them to merge their contacts, assets and holdings, creating a well-established network of contacts across many governments as well as legitimate business and company structures, that enable them to mask and support their criminal activities.”

It consists of “three main heads based in south-east Asia and at least 22 other primary seats [bosses]” based around the globe, and it pours billions of dollars into “high-profile internet gambling facilities, Asian hotel chains and resorts, commercial construction companies, property companies in Hong Kong and Vietnam, casinos and casino ships”.

To move money, the syndicate uses “highly placed government officials, banking staff … and many other means to provide a service that will undercut any other overt or covert money transfer facility”.

Members or associates of the grandfather syndicate are believed by law enforcement officials to be responsible for importations into Australia dating back more than a decade.

These include shipments linked to jailed Sydney crime boss Duncan Lam Sak Cheung and a 105-kilogram heroin shipment in 2005 which led to the jailing of another Asian crime boss, Ly Vi Hung.

Other major seizures linked to Operation Dayu include a $500 million ecstasy bust in 2007, several seizures from Canada in 2008 totalling half a tonne of illicit drugs, and large drug busts in 2009 and 2010 linked to Asian crime figures or bikie gangs supplied by triad-linked importers.

The behind-the-scenes battle in Australian policing agencies and the federal government to confront organised crime – including the work of Operation Dayu – is detailed The Sting, written by Nick McKenzie (Melbourne University Press).


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