The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has uncovered what it has described as “one of the biggest ever money laundering operations.”
The AFP alleges a Chinese currency exchange business used dozens of its Australian retail premises as a front for illegal money laundering operations worth over $200 million.
Seven people have been arrested and more than $50 million worth of properties and luxury items have been seized.
What is money laundering?
Money laundering is the process of moving or ‘cleaning’ criminal money obtained through illicit activities, so that the funds appear to have come from a legitimate source.
Using a legal business model, a currency exchange service called Changjiang Currency Exchange (CCE) sent billions of dollars overseas on behalf of its Australian customers.
However, the AFP says this legitimate operation was a front to conceal criminal money laundering.
The AFP has accused CCE of processing almost $229 million of illegally sourced funds, which included money from cyber scams, illicit goods trafficking and violent crimes.
The operator allegedly coached criminal clients on how to create fake business paperwork and bought them fake passports so they could flee the country if they were found by law enforcement.
Investigators became suspicious when CCE opened new stores during Sydney’s COVID lockdowns, after many tourists and international students had left the country.
AFP Eastern Command Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dametto said “it was just a gut feeling — it didn’t feel right.”
However, CCE’s public presence made it harder to detect its alleged criminal activity.
“It was not operating in the shadows like other money laundering organisations,” Dametto said.
Yesterday, 240 AFP and 92 specialist officers executed 20 search warrants, leading to seven arrests in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
Dametto alleges the seven “lived the high life”. This included travelling on private jets and living in homes valued up to $10 million.
Those arrested appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today.