Australian authorities said they dismantled a Chinese-Australian money-laundering syndicate and seized assets worth more than A$150 million ($106 million) in one of the country’s biggest operations of its kind.
Australian Federal Police charged nine members of the organization including its Sydney-based leader, it said in a statement Thursday.
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According to the AFP, the group moved illicit funds around the world, helping several international criminal gangs launder money. The items seized included cryptocurrency, as well as watches, handbags, jewelry and firearms.
More than 20 homes in Sydney, including two in the city’s eastern suburbs worth more than A$19 million combined, and a A$47 million tract of land near the future second airport were also seized.
“The Sydney-based group acted like an underground bank and had branches all around the world,” AFP Assistant Commissioner Kirsty Schofield said at a media briefing.
The bust raises further questions about Australia’s status as a money-laundering base, and exposes potential loop holes in rules governing real estate. Official investigations into the country’s biggest casino operators in recent years uncovered holes in financial controls and probable money laundering on gaming floors.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the organization moved billions of dollars offshore through a shadow-banking network spanning Asia, the Caribbean, Switzerland, America and the United Arab Emirates.
One of those arrested was a business partner of former casino junket king Alvin Chau, who was last month jailed in Macau after being found guilty of charges including criminal association, illicit gambling and fraud. The AFP declined to comment to Bloomberg News on the person’s links.
The AFP alleged the money-laundering organization amassed its wealth providing funds to people in Australia who were unable by law to transfer large amounts of cash out of China. The group charged a fee of up to 10 percent of the value of the money, the AFP said.
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