Reports by local newspapers and “60 Minutes” alleged that a Comanchero “bikie” (or motorcycle) gang affiliate is working as a Qantas manager at Sydney Airport, allowing him to recruit criminals and bolster narcotics import activities.
The news reports were based on an operation codenamed Project Brunello, which linked around 150 Qantas staff to criminal activity, according to the BBC.
Those briefed on the matter cannot speak publicly about related details, but The Sydney Morning Herald cited one source that described the matter as “serious” and representing “a very high threat to the Australian border.”
The activity may be tied to a group of nine men involved in a criminal syndicate dubbed by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) as “the Aussie Cartel” – a group potentially responsible for about one-third of the drug imports into Australia.
Possible members include a Hells Angels boss living between Greece and the UAE, a Triad-linked figure, and nationals from Dubai, Lebanon and Turkey.
Qantas Group chief security officer Luke Bramah said that “given we follow all of the government’s vetting procedures, we find these claims disturbing.”
“We have not been advised of any current investigations of Qantas Group employees involved in organised crime,” a statement from Bramah read. “If concerns are raised regarding any of our employees, we will actively support their investigation and take appropriate action.”
The criminal activity may have amounted to an estimated $1.5 billion AUD ($1.16 billion) worth of drugs smuggled across the Australian border per year, VICE reported.
“They share supply routes, they share logistic supply chains,” the commission’s chief executive Michael Phelan said. “They share among themselves the doors or the way into Australia. They share any corrupt networks they may have here to swap information to each other.”
“I don’t care about playing fair either,” Phelan added. “Absolutely, we’re hunting them and we make no apology for that.”
Phelan explained that the commission, working with federal police and agencies across Australia, will seek innovative means of locating and apprehending suspects, including one-off extradition arrangements and targeting family members or known associates in Australia who assist the cartel.