Australian Airline Infiltrated by Criminal Organisations and Bikie Gangs, Report Finds

June 7, 2021 Updated: June 7, 2021

Australia’s largest airline company, Qantas, has been allegedly infiltrated by bikie gangs and criminal syndicates who are importing narcotics worth billions through Australia’s borders, a report has found.

The allegations detailed by an intelligence operation code-named “Project Brunello” has found up to 150 current Qantas staff linked to criminality, including a Comanchero bikie gang affiliate who is working as a Qantas manager at Sydney Airport, according to a joint report by 60 minutes, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age.

“Given we follow all of the government’s vetting procedures, we find these claims disturbing,” Qantas Group chief security officer Luke Bramah told the newspapers and Nine’s 60 minutes program.

“We have not been advised of any current investigations of Qantas Group employees involved in organised crime. If concerns are raised regarding any of our employees, we will actively support their investigation and take appropriate action,” Bramah said.

However, the Brunello report allegedly found these criminally-linked Qantas staff, referred to as “trusted insiders,” were able to “cause significant harm” to the Australian community by creating “vulnerabilities in the security of supply chains and critical infrastructure”—thereby risking the erosion of public trust in border security the airline’s reputation.

For instance, a Northern Territory contractor associated with the Hells Angel’s motorcycle gang had allegedly “infiltrated” flights conducted by Australia’s Department of Defence and a Perth freight contractor was found to have used his “trusted insider status” to transport large quantities of drugs.

Additionally, former Qantas baggage handler Damian Flowers pleaded guilty to importing $68.5 million (US$ 53 million) worth of cocaine in May 2021. Flowers had imported $1 billion worth of narcotics.

The nation’s peak law enforcement intelligence agency also uncovered five Qantas staff with criminal links involving the ISIS terrorist group, but no immediate risks were found.

Moreover, Project Brunello found seven others were allegedly linked to child exploitation, including one staffer charged with possessing and manufacturing child pornography, leading the report to suggest a network of sex offenders working out of Brisbane airport.

Almost 60 staffers were also allegedly linked to “serious” drug offences and organised crime groups, with the largest concentration among baggage handlers and freight workers.

Federal Government Proposes New ‘Intelligence Checks’ Laws

The Morrison government is considering new rules that would allow airlines to use criminal intelligence, rather than just existing criminal convictions, when assessing job applicants.

However, Labor has said that such laws could affect workers on the basis of allegations alone. This has been disputed by intelligence groups who says that the rules would be used infrequently, only verified information would be used, with applicants able to appeal decisions.

This follows a 2005 Wheeler review that alleged Australia’s borders were compromised due to questions about border security controls and legislative gaps.

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIO) head Michael Phelan has urged the Morrison government to pass these laws.

“[If the laws] aren’t passed today, there’ll be 225 people … who are not convicted of any offences but have very close links to serious and organised crime,” Phelan said.

Federal Labor issued a statement on June 6 urging a security review at Australia’s airports following the “highly disturbing allegations” reported by Nines newspapers and 60 minutes.

“It is highly disturbing that the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission boss Mike Phelan has revealed tonight that federal law enforcement officials and dozens of Qantas employees might be facilitating the entry of drugs into Australia,” Deputy Labor Leader Kristina Keneally and Shadow Transport minister Catherine King said in a joint statement.

Keneally and King added that during the pandemic, organised crime syndicates have not only adapted but “thrived,” which the Brunello report says may create further opportunities for criminal syndicates to target Qantas and its staff.

Labor says it wants an independent review of security at Australia’s international airports.

Qantas chief security officer Luke Bramah supports the Morrison government’s proposed intelligence checks, reported Nine newspapers.

“In addition to the criminal checks that happen every two years, we’d like to see real-time background checks, which means airlines and airports know immediately if an employee has been convicted of an offence because it’s another safeguard.”