More than $8.5 million in luxury items, vehicles, and properties in Melbourne, Sydney, and the Gold Coast were seized by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) following an investigation into money laundering.
The police operation began after the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) asked AFP to help find the possible Chinese nationals who have been laundering funds offshore into Australia.
Australian officials have been cooperating with Beijing to retrieve the Australia-based loot of corrupt Chinese officials since at least 2015. Chinese leader Xi Jinping launched a nation-wide anti-corruption campaign in 2013 aimed at rooting out the widespread practise of bribery among officials, although some commentators have said that the campaign has also been a tool used by Xi to oust a rival political faction within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by former Communist Party head Jiang Zemin. The Jiang faction had been suspected of masterminding a coup to prevent Xi from entering office in 2012.
According to Chinese authorities, the money in Australia was allegedly obtained by defrauding investors in China.
Police believe that two Chinese nationals allegedly travelled to Australia in 2015 and created shell companies to transfer the proceeds of their crimes.
The Chinese nationals allegedly also bought residential and development properties in Australia.
Over Nov. 14-15, police searched properties in the Gold Coast, in Sydney’s Waterloo and Zetland, and in Melbourne’s Lower Plenty, Hawthorn, and Melbourne CBD.
Police said they are continuing to investigate the individuals involved.
The $8.5 million in seized assets are now subject to a Commonwealth restraining order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The latest raids mark the third separate investigation since October into Chinese nationals creating offshore shell companies to launder money.
The AFP had restrained three residential properties and two bank accounts related to about $2 million in proceeds of crime in two prior investigations in October. Collectively, the investigations have restrained $10.5 million in assets.
AFP Acting National Manager Organised Crime, Commander Bruce Hill, commented on the importance of international collaboration to stop money laundering.
“As people attempt to evade foreign governments and police agencies, the AFP is committed to working with our international counterparts to stop proceeds of crime being laundered in Australia,” Commander Hill said, according to an AFP release.
“This kind of activity—where significant criminal proceeds are moved into Australian assets—can erode the level playing field for Australian homebuyers and small business owners. This ripple effect impacts our whole community; it is far from a victimless crime.
“Our message to people thinking about laundering proceeds of crime in Australia is clear—your money and assets are not hidden from the AFP and our international partners. We will catch you.”
The AFP says they have had a “long and productive relationship” with the MPS, under a formal arrangement signed in September 2017 called the “Joint Agency Arrangement.”
The Joint Agency Arrangement takes aims at transnational economic crimes that impact Australia and China, and formalises a joint working group between the AFP, MPS, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
It is the first working group of its kind with China. Its goals is to strengthen cooperation on economic crimes such as money laundering and restrain suspected proceeds of crime in both countries.
Australia and China also signed a “Statement of Intent” on combating transnational crime and enhancing police cooperation in September 2017. The signing formalises cooperation between the two countries on stamping out crimes that have the potential to impact national security—such as terrorism.
Under Xi, the MPS—which has long been the CCP’s political and legal apparatus used as a tool of repression—has vacillated between extremes in terms of repressive policies. On the one hand, Xi formally shut down China’s labor camp system but on the other, there has been a severe crackdown on Chinese human rights lawyers using often brutal and extralegal measures.
Xi announced in 2017 that he was restructuring the ministry as his anti-corruption efforts had met with challenges over the years caused by disloyal officials.
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