A member of the 'Ndrangheta, or Calabrian mafia, has testified in an Italian court
that members of his family migrated to Australia to set up a criminal cell.
Domenico Agresta decided to become a collaborator with Italian justice in October 2016, and has since been testifying against his criminal family and other members of the 'Ndrangheta — one of the most powerful criminal organisations in the world.
"Agresta has confirmed that also in Australia there are members of the 'Ndrangheta, members of his family, that emigrated to Australia and have established in Australia at least two different locales in Australia," said Stefano Castellani, the anti-mafia prosecutor who took Agresta's statement.
A locale is a criminal cell within the 'Ndrangheta made up of three or four mafia families that live in the same area. They support each other in times of need, for example by providing money to support the family of members in jail.
Dr Castellani said the Agresta family are involved in serious criminal activity.
"They are involved in drug trafficking because they can count on the links with other 'Ndrangheta members both in Italy and in Central and South America," Dr Castellani said.
"They are also involved in other crimes such as the illegal detention of weapons, the selling of weapons and so on.
"He certainly knows that the 'Ndrangheta has also established at least two locales, so two groups of 'Ndrangheta members in Australia. There could be more, but part of the Agresta family — cousins, uncles — are part of these two locales in Australia."
The Australian Federal Police will not confirm or deny whether they are investigating the intelligence provided by Agresta.
The 'Ndrangheta targets Australia
Anna Sergi, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Essex and an expert on the 'Ndrangheta's global networks, says Agresta's testimony indicates the group's intention to make Australia a criminal base.
"There is an intent to make Australia a base for certain families, criminal families, and that means that there is an understanding that Australia serves the purposes of mafia behaviour, that you can get away with it, with this type of behaviour, and certain types of crime," Dr Sergi said.
"It is a lucrative place to set up a business."
Dr Sergi says the Australian drug market is particularly lucrative for 'Ndrangheta families.
"The 'Ndrangheta clans are strong enough and powerful enough and wealthy enough to absorb the risk in the trafficking," she said.
"Whenever you see big shipments of drugs, the 'Ndrangheta might easily be involved because they do have the money to move drugs across continents."
But the organisation is not just interested in criminal activity. In many countries they also invest in legitimate businesses.
"There is an investment in legal companies across the country, which go from winemaking to green energy, and all sorts of other local trades," Dr Sergi said.
"Local penetration into society is quite deep and it's not just a criminal phenomenon on the street."
Does Australia need new laws to fight the mafia?
Dr Sergi said the 'Ndrangheta often exploited legal loopholes created by the crossover of state and federal police jurisdictions.
"State police obviously have an organised crime capacity but they are bound to remain at state level because they cannot go beyond their jurisdiction," she said.
"The federal police, in my view, [are] the only ones who have the human capacity and the legal capacity to investigate across borders, but their set of interventions is limited.
"You have a number of crime commissions, but they are supposed to keep their investigations private because they are intelligence-led. They are sometimes investigating people others have investigated, and that is a waste of energy and efforts and money."
Dr Sergi said the Commonwealth's range of anti-association and anti-consorting offences were not strong enough to combat the sophistication of the 'Ndrangheta.
"Criminal law in Australia works through anti-association legislation for organised crime, which basically means that you have to proscribe an association as illegal before you can prosecute anyone for membership of that association," she said.
"That doesn't work for 'Ndrangheta. It might work for some of the outlaw motorcycle gang groups that Australia has been struggling with in the past 10 years, because they do have clear membership and they do have a very identifiable sub-cultural set of values, but it doesn't work with 'Ndrangheta."
Not every family with the surname Agresta in Australia is part of the 'Ndrangheta. The Attorney-General's Department declined to comment.