Thousands of Italian mafia figures are washing billions of dollars a year through the Australian economy in secrecy while “pulling the strings” of other criminal clans.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Tuesday launched a probe into 51 Italian organised crime gangs operating in Australia, 14 of which are the Calabrian mafia—also called ‘Ndrangheta—one of the most powerful organised crime groups in the world.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan alleged the ‘Ndrangheta of being responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the world’s cocaine and “flooding Australia with illicit drugs” such as cannabis and methamphetamine.
“They mix their illegitimate money with money from their legitimate construction, agricultural or catering businesses, and all of this makes it more difficult to not only identify criminality but to prove it,” Ryan said.
“They are pulling the strings of Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs who are behind some of the most significant violence in our communities.”
Investigators believed thousands of ‘Ndrangheta figures, including high-profile business players, are engaging in current criminal activity assisted or directed by their colleagues in Italy.
They have been largely operating under the radar for decades, with Assistant Commissioner Ryan saying people could be living next door to members and have no idea.
The Calabrian mafia regularly collaborates with other organised crime groups, including bikie gangs and Asian triads, South American cartels or middle Eastern crime gangs to co-operate on drug importation, money laundering and violence.
Ryan said the organised Italian crime clans “have become so powerful” in Australia that they almost own some outlawed motorcycle gangs, who will traffic drugs for their ‘Ndrangheta financiers, or commit violence on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta.
“The ‘Ndrangheta are not just an Australian problem, they are a global problem.”
Ryan noted that while money laundering “subverts, exploits, and distorts” legitimate markets, drug trafficking weakens Australia’s national security and economy. He added that drug trafficking also puts law-abiding citizens at risk of becoming “collateral damage” in the wars of organised criminals who shoot at each other in public.
The AFP said they had obtained invaluable intelligence from ANoM, a messaging service widely used by criminals but was closely monitored by the AFP and FBI.
In collaboration with Italian authorities, the AFP has also managed to map out a family tree of the ‘Ndrangheta in Australia.
According to investigators, the Australian ‘Ndrangheta has been conducting money laundering since the 1970s and continues to commit crimes using bitcoin dealers, corrupt lawyers and accountants.
The AFP’s press release stated that ‘Ndrangheta figures are “difficult to combat” due to their strong familial relations and loyalty, international reach, and exploitation of other criminal groups’ ability to infiltrate people in power.