Friday, August 8, 2008

World's Largest Shipment Of Ecstasy

This is better than the best-selling true story 'Underbelly' which became a recent mini-series in Australia that outlines underworld criminal activity across Australia, predominately Melbourne. Some of the true-to-life characters are one and the same in this latest turn of events. Perhaps there will need to be a 'Underbelly II' - I wonder if that one would be banned in Victoria like the first one was?

After a year-long Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation, an international drug syndicate was broken yesterday.

Some of Australia's most best known and notorious alleged underworld figures were arrested in connection to the seizure in Melbourne of the world's largest shipment of ecstasy. This came as a result of a series of dramatic raids across the Australia.

20 people were arrested in total, and eventually 19 of these people were charged with various drug and money laundering offences in relation to the seizure of the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy from Italy (15 million tablets).

The tablets were concealed inside tins of tomato shipped from Italy to Melbourne. The total value of the haul is estimated at $440 million.

The alleged mastermind of the drug syndicate is Pasquale Barbaro, who has been pegged as the suspected drug baron and was founder of the Black Uhlans Outlaw Motorcycle Gang. Other key underworld figures to be arrested include John Higgs and Rob Karam, the latter who is alleged to have used a corrupt network of Melbourne dock and freight workers to assist in getting the drugs across Aussie borders.

46-year-old Barbaro, was arrested at his Carlton unit (in Melbourne) along with 37-year-old Sharon Ropa, 37, early on Friday morning. According to the AFP, Barbaro travelled frequently between his home town of Tharbogang, near Griffith in New South Wales, and his unit in Carlton.

Mr Barbaro is the son of Francesco "Little Trees" Barbaro. "Little Trees" was brought to the attention the Woodward Royal Commission, during the investigation behind the disappearance of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay back in 1977. He was named as a member of the Griffith-based Calabrian organisation behind the disappearance by the Commission.

Pasquale Barbaro boasts a Italian-style mansion in Griffith, was also raided around 6.30am by AFP officers. Another four properties in Griffith were raided around 4am by teams of customs officers with sniffer dogs. Barbaro's father, Francesco had some harsh words with officers at the mansion.

When interviewed by The Age Newspaper, Fransesco Barbaro said "I have no idea what's happening. I don't know anything about drugs, leave me alone".

A Melbourne fruit and vegetable marketeer, 47-year-old Francesco Madafferi was also arrested and charged. In the 1990s, the Australaian Immigration Department had tried to deport Madafferi, when it was discovered that he had been investigated for the "Mafia Conspiracy" in Calabria.

Madafferi, who was charged with trafficking MDMA, was granted bail without appeal when he appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday. Thirteen others who had been charged in relation to the raids were all remanded in custody.

Evidence presented to the court included the declaration that there is 187,000 hours of telephone intercept evidence and 3600 hours of listening device recordings. The prosecuter then asked for six months to prepare the case against the accused.

According to the AFP, this drug syndicate represents about 60% of all ecstasy that is imported into Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania.

"This is a major disruption to transnational organised crime, both for this country and abroad... The investigation was the largest ever undertaken by the AFP".

Police executed more than 45 search warrants in Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The ecstasy tablets were first discovered by federal police and customs officers on June 28th, 2007 in a shipment that arrived in Melbourne. The discovery was as a result of intelligence gathered from Australian and European agencies.

It was decided at the time not to reveal the raid immediately. The AFP secretly substituted inert pills for the ectasy and carefully resealed each tin. Then they mounted an elaborate surveillance and phone-tapping operation.

The Carlton unit was uncovered to be an alleged 'safe house' for the drug syndicate. This breakthrough information came about by listening devices monitored by the AFP.

Pasquale Barbaro, who was remanded in custody to appear in court on March 26, was yesterday charged with conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of MDMA (ecstasy), trafficking MDMA, and aiding and abetting the importing of cocaine.

The lady arrested with Barbaro (Sharon Ropa) frequented the 'safe house' in Carlton often, travelling between it and her Werribee home. She is also alleged to have been involved in a $9 million money laundering ring along with three other people. The ring was allegedly providing funds for the drug syndicate.

Ropa, who was remanded in custody to appear on March 26, faced the Melbourne Magistrates Court charged with laundering money worth more than $1 million, trafficking MDMA, and aiding and abetting the importing of cocaine.

On July 24 this year in Melbourne, customs and AFP officials also seized 150 kilograms of cocaine alleged to have been imported by the same syndicate.

In the raids of the Griffith masnion property, the AFP also seized $140,000 in cash and a substantial quantity of weapons.

Of the others charged and appearing in the Melbourne Magistrate's Court, 24-year-old Mohamed Abdul Nazeer and 34-year-old Tanesh Dias, both of West Footscray and both charged with money laundering, were remanded until February 4. All others are due back in court on March 26.

Alan Saric, 34 of Werribee, charged with various drug offences, and Abdul Nazeer are expected to make bail applications early next week.

One of the accused who was charged with conspiracy to import MDMA, 61-year-old John Higgs, of Taylors Lakes, has been under investigation by state and federal police for two decades. He remains a suspect in the theft of secret police files detailing the activities of a police informer from the Victorian drug squad offices in 1996.

Another Melbourne figure charged with conspiracy to import MDMA, trafficking MDMA, aiding and abetting the importing of cocaine and importing a precursor chemical to manufacture drugs was Rob Karam, an associate of alleged drug baron Tony Mokbel. He was also one of Crown Casino's top 200 gamblers before being banned from the casino by Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon.

Other people arrested and charged with various drug offences across four states, include - Saverio Zirilli, 51, of Tharboganag, NSW, Carmelo Falanga, 43, of Bungle Bungle Ranges, SA, Pasquale Sergi, 45, of Griffith, NSW, Gratian Bran, 51, of Cheltenham, Graeme Potter, 50, of Launceston, Severino Scarponi, 39, of Glenside, SA, Antonio Di Pietro, 41, of Nar Nar Goon, Pino Varallo, 39, of Eltham, Dominic Barbaro, 31, of Lake Wyangan, NSW, Tony Sergi, 34, of Sydenham, and Salvatore Agresta, 40, of East Keilor.

How Police Checkmated Alleged Drug Chiefs

Courtesy of Nick McKenzie of The Age Newspaper

CATCHING clever crooks is not unlike a game of chess - you wear down your opponent in the hope of finding a weakness.

So it was for Australian Federal Police last year, when intelligence from European and Australian law enforcement agencies suggested that a container shipped from Italy might include more than the tinned tomatoes listed on the customs manifest.

When the AFP and customs officers secretly searched the container in Melbourne, they uncovered the largest single shipment of ecstasy ever intercepted by any law enforcement agency in the world: 4.4 tonnes or 15 million pills.

But the federal agents had a problem. While they had some intelligence on who was involved, the evidence was not strong enough to sustain criminal charges.

The sheer size of the importation pointed to figures who were well-connected, wealthy and with ready access to a large distribution network. It soon emerged that they were also well versed in avoiding police attention; the men hired to unload the cargo were cleanskins with no idea who they were working for or what they had been paid to unload.

The AFP agents had two choices: they could declare their hand and call a press conference to trumpet the massive seizure. Or they could mount a slow play, hoping one of their suspects would trip up and give them enough evidence to identify the main players and start tapping phones.

Those behind the shipment had a weakness - they owed their European suppliers millions of dollars, money that was meant to be repaid after the drugs were sold locally. No drugs to sell meant a bad debt and a major problem.

So the AFP put the press conference on hold. They assigned a team of agents to open each tin of tomatoes, remove the pills and replace them with harmless tablets. Each tin was resealed. Then the AFP waited.

Before long, police began to pick up increasing amounts of chatter and activity involving their Australian suspects.

The European suppliers were getting impatient, and both they and their Australian counterparts were getting increasingly suspicious.

While it was suspected the AFP had substituted the drugs, no one could be sure. Had the suppliers sold them duds? Or were the Australian importers trying to fool the suppliers about a police seizure in order to avoid paying their debt?

Meetings were arranged, phone calls made and overseas trips booked. All the while, the AFP watched and, as they found more suspects' phones to tap, listened.

A key obstacle for police involved the home addresses of some of the alleged principal organisers. The NSW Riverina town of Griffith - named in the 1979 Woodward Royal Commission as home to members of the Calabrian Mafia, or Honoured Society - was a tough place for surveillance operatives to blend in. Not wanting to blow their agents' cover, the AFP concentrated on monitoring the group's Melbourne activities.

Then came the coup de grace. The AFP identified the importation organiser's safe house in Melbourne and, when no one was home, a covert-entry team paid a visit and installed listening devices.

At least one further drug shipment was soon uncovered; customs seized 150 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a coffee importation a fortnight ago.

Last month, the AFP reviewed the intelligence, phone taps and surveillance files it had gathered during more than a year of watching and waiting.

Police had finally gathered enough evidence to allege the involvement of a who's who of organised crime in Australia in a conspiracy to import or distribute drugs. Warrants were secretly issued and, yesterday, the AFP swooped.



Anonymous said...

Now the AFP needs to finish off the job they started..a death sentence to wipe these scum off the face of the earth forever.

Anything less would be just a dog and pony show...

Brown Sugar said...

Gary, the wheels of karma grinds slowly but very thoroughly. They'll get their just desserts soon enough.