Customs corruption extends to waterfront

Customs corruption extends to waterfront

Customs corruption extends to waterfront

Updated 21 December 2012, 10:58 AEST

Corruption within the Customs service extends to Australia's waterfront, where underworld figures are using corrupt dock workers to import drugs and possibly even guns.

Corruption within the Customs service extends to Australia's waterfront, where underworld figures are using corrupt dock workers to import drugs and possibly even guns.

On Thursday, a 7.30 and Fairfax investigation revealed that a cell of suspected corrupt Customs officers allegedly helped smuggle drugs through Sydney Airport.

It has since been announced that eight people have been charged in connection to the alleged drug ring.

And it can be revealed that it seems corruption has also reached Port Botany, where authorities have identified at least a dozen Customs staff involved in suspected corruption or serious misconduct.

It is feared this activity is not only allowing drugs and illegal tobacco past the border, but guns as well.

New South Wales police are searching for illegal pistols, some which may be behind some of Sydney's recent shootings.

Some of the pistols are suspected to have been smuggled in shipping containers which Customs officers claimed they had X-rayed when they had not.

Sources say Customs paperwork has been fraudulently filled out, giving the all clear to containers that may have been filled with illegal handguns.

But insiders say security breaches on the waterfront highlight how vulnerable the system is and different authorities are grappling with the best way to confront it.

Smuggling syndicate

One of those arrested over alleged drug importation involving corrupt dock workers is crime boss Mohammed Jomaa.

Just after midnight on September 22, 2010, Jomaa and another man collected a sports bag filled with 50 kilograms of cocaine from a car outside a house in southern Sydney.

The pair moved the bag into their own car not knowing they were being watched. A few minutes later, Federal Police moved in.

Jomaa is tied to a smuggling syndicate with tentacles reaching not only Port Botany, but, most disturbingly, inside Customs, where police suspect his syndicate has two officers on its payroll.

The tougher you were, the more prior convictions you had for assaults or murder, the more chance you had of getting picked up for a job and most of the men with violent pasts got picked up as painters and dockers.

Former Melbourne detective Brian Murphy

Clive Small, a former detective and Assistant Commissioner of the NSW Police, says Jomaa has a well-established reputation and has been operating for a long time.

"He also has those close-knit connections, the middlemen at the wharves and Customs and in other places," he said.

Jomaa called on outlaw bikie Brian Blackman and a corrupt maritime industry worker to help to smuggle the 50 kilograms from a container sitting in a supposedly secure storage yard.

Jomaa and Blackman have both been convicted of drug trafficking but many of the corrupt players in the Jomaa network still remain a threat to Australia's border security.

It is a common story. Police sources and leaked reports say the docks and the airports are hosting many corrupt insiders, including government officials.

Waterfront corruption is not a new phenomenon - as former Melbourne detective Brian Murphy knows well.

Mr Murphy, an infamous hard man of the Victorian Police Force, helped expose the notoriously corrupt Painters and Dockers Union in the 1970s.

Many of the union's extortion, bookmaking and theft rackets were run out of Mr Murphy's local patch of South and Port Melbourne.

"The tougher you were, the more prior convictions you had for assaults or murder, the more chance you had of getting picked up for a job and most of the men with violent pasts got picked up as painters and dockers," he said.

New criminal ventures

In the 1980s, Mr Murphy's investigations helped trigger the Costigan Royal Commission, which exposed much of the murder and corruption on Melbourne's waterfront.

But as the headlines died down, many of the younger painters and dockers and their protégés turned to a new way of making money.

"They've already been credited with violence in the painters and dockers when they were young and they had that name and they've gone from there into the drug scene," he said.

In 2004, fellow Victorian-based policeman and AFP officer Ross Fusca launched a new taskforce to take on corruption on the docks.

"The intelligence indicated that there were a number of people that worked on the waterfront that could assist criminal groups remove shipping containers holding drugs," he said.

If there is an issue with law enforcement at points of entry into this country that are allowing criminals to become stronger and more powerful, the Australian Government has got no option but to throw a commission of inquiry or royal commission behind it.

Ross Fusca

His taskforce pulled off several major drug busts including the haul of 5 million tablets valued at $250 million which had been hidden in cavities inside containers of Italian ceramic tiles.

But in 2005, when Mr Fusca called for his joint-agency waterfront taskforce to keep on running, his request was denied because it would cost too much.

While police were winding down, one of Australia's most prolific drug importers, Hakan "Big Hux" Ayik, was gearing up and finding ways to corrupt waterfront workers.

By 2008, Ayik had an impressive smuggling network, including work-out junkie and influential Port Botany stevedore who, for legal reasons, will be referred to as Mr X.

Police observed Mr X driving a Porsche, making huge cash withdrawals and mixing with the who's who of the criminal underworld.

At the same time he was using his Federal Government-issued Maritime Security Identity Pass to access restricted areas at Port Botany.

Mr Fusca says Mr X was leading an extravagant lifestyle for a dock worker.

"We were aware of dock workers living beyond their means and clearly Mr X was," he said.

"When expenditure outweighs income, it is a clear indicator that that particular person is accumulating wealth outside of his normal form of employment. Clearly you would target that person."

Vulnerable system

In fact, as far back as 2004, NSW authorities had intelligence that Mr X was "involved in drug supply" and that "Mr X or his contacts in the ports may be facilitating importations". But he was not investigated.

Mr Fusca says the fact Mr X was given such access highlights the vulnerability of the system.

By late 2009, fresh police intelligence warned that Ayik was working with Mr X and that the dock worker "may be facilitating importations on behalf of Ayik".

Ayik was targeted for investigation but yet again, Mr X was not.

He was free to keep aiding drug importers. It was only this year that Mr X was finally arrested.

As concern about waterfront corruption grew, the NSW Police Force and the AFP launched a new taskforce, codenamed Polaris.

In September 2010, it swooped on Jomaa and Blackman.

A year later, Polaris moved on another crime syndicate with suspected links to its own corrupt Customs officials.

Almost everywhere Polaris turned, it found corruption, as this secret 2012 report reveals:

"Polaris investigations have identified employees of law enforcement and regulatory bodies providing assistance to criminal groups.

"The employees have included members of customs and employees of AQIS [Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service]."

While much of the focus has been on Port Botany, police are still working out how bad things are across the rest of the nation.

Law enforcement officers like Mr Fusca say corruption on the docks needs to be exposed.

"If there is an issue with law enforcement at points of entry into this country that are allowing criminals to become stronger and more powerful, the Australian Government has got no option but to throw a commission of inquiry or royal commission behind it and get to the bottom of it," he said.