WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), and other law enforcement partners announced yesterday the arrest and charges of seven members of an alleged Chinese organized crime syndicate accused of secretly running a prominent multi-billion-dollar money remitting chain in Australia – the result of the most complex AFP-led money-laundering investigation in Australia’s history.
“The outcome of this investigation exemplifies the exceptional coordination and collaboration between Australian and U.S. law enforcement agencies,” said HSI Regional Attaché Ernest Verina. “We remain committed to our partnership in disrupting the flow of illicit proceeds and safeguarding the integrity of our financial systems.”
“HSI Sacramento’s contribution in this operation with our partner agencies under the USAO Sacramento led and OCDETF funded Strikeforce demonstrates how seriously we take our commitment to investigating sophisticated transnational money laundering, which is the lifeblood of criminal organizations around the world,” said San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Tatum King. “Our agents and analysts work with the USAO Eastern District, FBI, DEA, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, IRSCI, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Yolo County DA’s Office, CA National Guard, ATFE, CV HIDTA and other regional and international partners including the Australian Federal Police to help ensure the integrity of the cyber financial system.”
In support of the 14-month investigation, HSI worked with AFP investigators and key partners to plan and execute the takedown of the Long River money laundering organization, through investigative actions, such as obtaining financial records through subpoenas, analyzing bank records, obtaining search warrants, and conducting undercover operations, which contributed significantly to the multinational investigation, arrests and charges.
The Changjiang Currency Exchange, which the AFP alleges is being secretly run by the Long River money laundering syndicate, has transferred in excess of 10 billion Australian dollars in the past three Australian fiscal years. While most of these funds were from customers engaged in lawful actions, the AFP alleges the company facilitated a system for organized criminals to secretly transfer unlawfully-obtained money in and out of Australia. The AFP alleges the amount of money laundered between 2020 and 2023 was AU$228,883,561.
More than 240 AFP members, plus 92 specialist members, executed 20 search warrants Tuesday across every mainland Australia state, while simultaneously restraining more than AU$50 million in property and vehicles under AFP-led Operation Avarus-Nightwolf.
Four Chinese nationals and three Australian citizens charged for their alleged involvement in the money laundering syndicate and appeared in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, Oct. 26:
- A Balwyn man, 37.
- A Glen Iris man, 40.
- A Vermont woman, 33.
- A Kew man, 35.
- A Kew woman, 35.
- A Balwyn North man, 37.
- A Balwyn woman, 38.
Registered money remitters are lawful businesses in Australia, and can facilitate international money transfers from one customer to another, allowing individuals to access funds that have been converted to a currency of choice. The Changjiang Currency Exchange, which has 12 shop fronts in every state in mainland Australia, is now subject to regulatory action by the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (AUSTRAC).
The Changjiang Currency Exchange has modern-looking shop fronts and supplied resources to customers about Australia’s anti-money laundering laws, which the AFP will allege was the company’s attempt to look and act like a law-abiding remittance company. The AFP alleges it identified links between known money laundering organizations and the Changjiang Currency Exchange, which piqued the attention of investigators when the company opened new and updated existing shopfronts in Sydney during COVID-19 lockdowns.
“The AFP will allege the Changjiang Currency Exchange was able to hide its illegal behavior because it looked like a legitimate and lawful money remitter. The reason why this investigation was so unique and complex was that this alleged syndicate was operating in plain sight with shiny shopfronts across the country – it was not operating in the shadows like other money laundering organizations,” said AFP Eastern Command Assistant Commissioner Stephen Dametto. “We expect our charges will significantly impact on the amount of illicit money being remitted in and out of Australia in the coming days alone.”
In August 2022, Taskforce Avarus, an AFP-led standing taskforce on money laundering, established Operation Avarus-Nightwolf to investigate the Long River money laundering organization, an AFP high-value target that the AFP alleges is linked to the Changjiang Currency Exchange.
Operation Avarus-Nightwolf, a 14-month investigation, included HSI, AUSTRAC, Australian Border Force (ABF), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Australian Border Force (ABF), and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.