CHAPTER 7: NCA Activities in Relation to Asian Organised Crime

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CHAPTER 7: NCA Activities in Relation to Asian Organised Crime

7.1 Many State police forces now have specialist Asian squads. Other law enforcement agencies are also prominent in combating Asian organised criminal activity. Hence the remainder of this section does not purport to be a comprehensive or balanced description of the activities of Australian agencies in this area. Rather the focus is on the role of the NCA.

7.2 The NCA came into existence on 1 July 1984 and on 19 October 1984 it was given its first two references. One of them was into organised Chinese criminal activity (the Iliad Reference). The reference arose from investigations and intelligence-gathering by the AFP, which had concluded that heroin importations were linked and controlled by several central figures. The NCA's Operation Iliad covered the investigation of illegal importations of narcotic substances, especially heroin, into Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne from South-East Asia since 1 January 1976, their distribution within Australia and the financing of such importations and distribution by (named) groups of persons who were of Chinese extraction. Work on the reference was carried out in cooperation with other agencies. The NCA conducted a comprehensive strategic assessment of information gathered during Iliad investigations, and this was disseminated to other Australian and overseas agencies in July 1991. [1]

7.3 The Iliad reference, which has been updated and reissued, remains in force and active today. It now covers south-east Asian groups, not just Chinese. [2] Its current terms, besides narcotics, include bribery or corruption of officers, tax evasion, bankruptcy and company violations, fraud on the Commonwealth, forging of passports, currency violations, and money laundering.

7.4 The Committee noted in 1989 that it 'understands that the Authority was apparently the first Australian law enforcement agency to employ Chinese-speaking officers from Hong Kong to assist in the investigation of criminal activity among Chinese elements in Australia'. [3] The employment of Chinese-speakers has been a feature of its operations since an officer from the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption joined the NCA's Iliad team in 1985.

7.5 The NCA convened a conference on Chinese Organised Crime in Canberra in August 1991. This was attended by representatives of Australian and overseas agencies. The conference 'resolved to initiate the development of an integrated law enforcement approach to combat Chinese and associated crime on a national basis'.[4] The NCA has since played an important facilitative role, together with other agencies, in developing this approach, in particular by co-ordinating a national intelligence collection project. This has broadened beyond Chinese organised crime to cover south east Asian organised crime generally. The approach involved the collection of information from all relevant law enforcement agencies in Australia on a range of topics related to south east Asian organised crime.[5]

7.6 In November 1994, the NCA and the AFP co-hosted a conference on Asian Organised Crime in Sydney. This was attended by representatives of Australian and overseas law enforcement agencies. The conference reached the following conclusions on the nature and extent of Asian organised crime:

  1. Organised crime is a major international phenomenon requiring a coordinated and dedicated international response.
  2. To make a meaningful assessment of future trends in organised criminal activity, it is essential that organised crime be viewed in the international context and the totality of the organised criminal activity.
  3. As new economic and business opportunities are created in many countries, so the opportunities for the involvement of organised crime increase.
  4. Organised crime must be understood as a serious threat to the fundamental human rights of citizens of all countries.
  5. Law enforcement agencies need to understand and attempt to anticipate the ability of organised criminal groups to continually adapt to change by exploiting opportunities to expand into any profit-making activity.
  6. The 90s offers an environment of greater diversity, interactions and partnership between organised criminal groups and an environment of unprecedented mobility and internationality, of unprecedented variety and profitability and potential for power.
  7. Although Asian criminal groups do not tend to be formally structured and hierarchical in nature, as other criminal organisations like the La Cosa Nostra, the impact of the criminal groups can be just as severe.
  8. At present the principal threats posed by Asian organised crime come from manufacturing, importation and trafficking of illicit drugs, money laundering, illegal immigration, extortion, commercial crime and counterfeiting, loan sharking and violence.
  9. A significant common strategy of Asian organised criminal groups is to induce fear of reprisal into victims, thereby discouraging reporting crime and giving evidence in prosecutions.
  10. As competition between organised criminal groups increases, power struggles are likely to be replaced by mergers to capitalise on resources, maximise profit potential and counter increased sophisticated investigation techniques.
  11. Law enforcement knowledge of the extent of Asian organised crime is limited by the extent to which Asian communities have trust in those law enforcement agencies.

7.7 On the investigative front, the NCA has had considerable success in tackling Chinese organised crime. As at 30 June 1994 there had been 97 persons charged with a total of 218 charges as a result of investigations under NCA Matter Two (Iliad - the original Chinese organised crime reference).[6] In addition 33 people had been charged with 130 offences as a result of NCA investigations and joint task force operations under Matter Eighteen (the updated and broadened version of Matter Two). [7] Reflecting the broader nature of Matter Eighteen, some of those charged as a result of investigations under it are from Vietnamese criminal groups. [8] As at 30 June 1993, $4,384,869 in assessments and penalties had been issued by the Australian Taxation Office and ten million dollars in assets remained frozen, all as a result of investigations under Matter Two. [9] In 1993-94, pecuniary penalties and forfeiture orders totalling $16,435,762 were issued under Matter Eighteen. [10]

7.8 The Committee was told by the NCA Chairperson, Mr Sherman, in April 1992 that the NCA had not done any major intelligence-gathering exercises on the yakuza. [11] The main Australian agencies with expertise on the yakuza have been the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission. In December 1992, the CJC and the Queensland Police established a Joint Organised Crime Task Force. [12] Several of the operations of this task force have related to the yakuza.

7.9 As noted in paragraph above, the Report of the Review of Commonwealth Law Enforcement Arrangements recommended that the NCA have 'a strategic and/or coordination role' in respect of eleven matters, one of which was 'Yakuza groups'. The Government has accepted this recommendation. It remains to be seen how deeply involved in this particular matter the NCA becomes.

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[1]NCA, Annual Report 1991-92, p. 21.

[2]It is now Commonwealth Reference 17 (issued 26 May 1994). See NCA, Annual Report 1993-94, pp. 29-30.

[3]Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Third Report, November 1989, para. 1.17.

[4]NCA, Annual Report 1991-92, p. 21.

[5]NCA, Annual Report 1993-94, p. 29.

[6]ibid., p. 38.

[7]NCA, Annual Report 1993-94, p. 38.

[8]See the table listing those charged under Matter Eighteen in the NCA's Annual Report 1993-94, pp. 96-97.

[8]NCA, Annual Report 1992-93, p. 40.

[9]NCA, Annual Report 1993-94, p. 31.

[10]Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, in camera Hansard, 27 April 1992, p. 43.

[11]Queensland, Criminal Justice Commission, Annual Report 1993-94, p. 34.

[12]See for a brief description "The Commish: CJC under siege: Keeping score", Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 27 February